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Keene State Theatre Presents Drama About Sexual Abuse and Forgiveness

KSC actors Cara Gerardi of East Dennis, Mass. and William Howell of Peterborough, N.H. play the lead roles in "How I Learned to Drive."
KSC actors Cara Gerardi of East Dennis, Mass. and William Howell of Peterborough, N.H. play the lead roles in "How I Learned to Drive."

How I Learned to Drive, an award-winning drama by Paula Vogel that explores sexual abuse and forgiveness, will be presented Tuesday to Saturday, February 25 to March 1, by the Keene State College Theatre and Dance Department. Each show starts at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, March 1, in the Wright Theatre of Keene State’s Redfern Arts Center. The play will be performed without intermission and latecomers will not be seated. Tickets are $10 for the general public, $8 for senior citizens and children, and $6 for KSC students. Call the box office at 603-358-2168 or order online.

How I Learned to Drive, written by Paula Vogel, who teaches playwriting at Yale University, was a long-running Broadway hit and received every award that an American play can win including the Pulitzer Prize in 1998.

With humor and pathos, the play challenges audiences to withhold judgment and see the emotional and psychological experience of child abuse from a complex perspective. To explore this complex issue, Keryn Bernard-Kriegl, executive director of the New Hampshire Children’s Trust, will present a post-show discussion following the Wednesday, February 26, performance. A lobby display and an online resource guide on preventing child abuse and neglect will be presented by KSC’s Lambda Beta Chapter of Alpha Psi Omega, the National Theatre Honor Society.

The play uses a non-linear, stylized metaphor of driving lessons to lead audience members to an unexpected thought-provoking conclusion. Although pedophilia is at the center of this play, the playwright examines what may have caused an older uncle to prey on his 11-year-old niece and how that girl copes with the molestation as she grows into a woman. Focusing on the adult narrator’s memories of sexual molestation, the play resists easy labels and simple stereotypes about either the molester or the victim, explains director PeggyRae Johnson, a theatre professor at Keene State. She chose this play because it’s so beautifully written and deals with contemporary issues of child molestation – its causes and effects.

“These issues are handled with humor and sensitivity,” Johnson said. “We’re so quick to jump to conclusions before we know the full set of circumstances. Things are more complex than they seem and we need to take time to listen to all the voices.”

These voices are heard through the main protagonists – the girl and her uncle, and a six member chorus that acts much like a traditional Greek chorus commenting on the action and providing perspective and background information. The play opens with the line “Sometimes to tell a secret you first have to teach a lesson.” and by the end of this memory play the wounded child has learned the importance of forgiveness.

Johnson chose two strong actors to play the leads: Cara Gerardi of East Dennis, Mass., as Lil’ Bit, and William Howell of Peterborough, N.H., as Uncle Peck. The chorus includes Ryan Connell of Beverly, Mass.; Taylor Jorgensen of Wilton, N.H.; Margaret Lacey of Holliston, Mass.; Matt McDougal of Keene, N.H., Sophia Olsen of Keene, N.H., and Katherine Wadleigh of Hollis, N.H. Stage manager is Jillian Strazzere of Wilmington, Mass. Assistant stage managers are Emily Allinson of Berwick, Maine, and Jennifer Ives of Merrimack, N.H.

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