I recently had the privilege of attending a rehearsal for Rowan Lab Theatre’s newest show, “How I Learned to Drive” by Paula Vogel. The show is directed by Marisa Pelikan and stage-managed by Bella DeNapoli, who is assisted by Alec Lacher. It was like nothing I have ever seen before.
“How I Learned To Drive” tells the story of Lil’ Bit, played by Julia Rose Majerscak, as she grows up in an uncomfortable, yet seemingly cheerful, life. The show handles tough topics such as sexual harassment, power dynamics and coming of age in a nuanced and constructive way. The characters dance along the lines of evoking hatred from the audience, yet there is a deep unexplainable urge to try to understand where they are coming from.
Pelikan described the show as “whimsical, [and] scary but also beautiful.” At first, I was in awe of the jarring juxtaposition of the description, but as I continued to watch the performance I realized just how right those words are.
The actors Juptej Singh, Mattie Millet, Nathan Fitch, Rachel Kumor, and Julia Rose Majerscak have clearly devoted a lot of time and energy into this piece. That hard work is seen in every laugh, every tear, and every gasp drawn out from the audience. They have each learned perhaps the hardest lesson for many professionals– never judge your character.
Each of their characters has significant flaws. However, they treat their characters with the respect and understanding they deserve. In turn, the characters feel more believable and relatable. They make you feel conflicted and force you to question your own thinking.
“I hope that [audiences] view all of the characters from a bird’s eye view. The way that it’s written, there is no villain, there is no hero,” said Pelikan. “I want [audiences] to be able to know that it’s okay to laugh at points and know that it’s okay to have hardships as long as you look at the bright side of things every once and a while too.”
“How I Learned to Drive” is unique in that way. It doesn’t attempt to be just one genre. There are moments when you want to cry and others, often very closely after, where you want to laugh out loud. The script and the actors’ portrayals of the characters showcase life’s various angles.
Lil’ Bit’s life is tragic in the most definitive way but it is also very beautiful and filled with humor and courage. She remembers the good times along with the bad, something we could all learn from. She doesn’t let one aspect of her life define who she is or destroy her spirit. She takes it in stride, even the really difficult parts.
Throughout all her struggles, Lil’ Bit never gives up and that is what brings the beauty to an otherwise harsh and dramatic piece.
The show opens on April 14 and will run through April 17. The first three performances will be held at 8 p.m. in Bunce Hall Room 159. The second will take place in the same space but will begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are free for Rowan students and $10 for outside visitors. Tickets can be purchased via the TicketLeap link on their social media accounts. Be sure to reserve your spots now so you don’t miss out on your chance to see this incredible show.
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