An Augustana College senior and a locally prominent alumnus actor are paired in the disturbing, Pulitzer-winning play "How I Learned To Drive" by Paula Vogel, opening Friday at the Rock Island campus.
The play -- which won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for drama -- concerns an incestuous affair between its female protagonist, Li'l Bit, and her Uncle Peck, who teaches her to drive. The affair takes as Li'l Bit ages from 11 to 18, when she puts an end to it. A 1997 New York Times review called Uncle Peck "surely the most engaging pedophile to walk across an American stage," and "Drive" itself a "heartbreaking play of damaged lives."
Ms. Vogel has said she intended the play ''to get the audience to go along for a ride they wouldn't ordinarily take, or don't even know they're taking.''
In this memory play, Li'l Bit conjures up troubling events and people from her past, working to find answers to her life and a path for her future.
Guest director Jennifer Popple, who also serves as an adjunct instructor of English and liberal studies at Augustana, has wanted to direct the play ever since it premiered, according to a release from the college. She chose it because it shines a light on something painful and devastating to a child, while showing a method for making one's way through it.
"To do all of this and still be extremely funny much of the time is a difficult thing to do, but Vogel's play accomplishes all of this and more," Ms. Popple said. "It has a beautiful message about how we can let our pasts shape, but not completely define, who we are going to be."
Robin Quinn, a senior from Rolling Meadows, Ill., who plays Li'l Bit, sees the play's raw approach as a distinguishing element. "This is the kind of story that makes people think," she said. "You can't experience this show and leave without forming opinions and emotions, though sometimes the two will conflict. It's powerful that way."
Uncle Peck will be played by guest actor Mike Schulz, a 1990 Augie alumnus. Mr. Schulz works as the arts and calendar editor for the River Cities' Reader and is a member of the Curtainbox Theatre Company in Davenport.
"Peck really gives you the chance to stretch, or grow, some acting muscle," he said. "But truthfully, nothing about the 'Drive' experience, so far, has been as exciting as getting to work with director Jennifer Popple and these amazing students."
The play will be at Potter Theatre in Bergendoff Hall, 3701 7th Ave., Rock Island, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, and at the same times the next weekend.
Mike Tendall, from Augustana's Student Counseling Office, will participate with the cast in a talkback after Friday's opening-night performance. The Women and Gender Studies Department will host a reception after the show on Feb. 4; associate professor Jane Simonsen will participate with the cast in that evening's talkback.
Tickets are $11 for the general public, $9 for senior citizens and students, at (309) 794-7306. Because this play deals with mature subject matter, it is not recommended for children.
Today is Thursday, Dec. 12, the 346th day of 2013. There are 19 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: Two boys who haul coal from Coal Valley to Davenport were arrested yesterday for running their teams through the city street at a furious rate. 1888 -- 125 years ago: E.H. Barker dislocated his left wrist and suffered a compound fracture of the right wrist when he fell from the roof of his icehouse. 1913 -- 100 years ago: Lou Harris was elected county superintendent of schools to fill the unexpired term of the late S.J. Ferguson. 1938 -- 75 years ago: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that a state must give equality in educational privileges to white and Negro law students. 1963 -- 50 years ago: About 300 employees of the Augustana Book Concern, staff members of the Board of Publication of the Lutheran Church in America, as well as friends of the community and out-of-town guests honored Dr. Birger Swenson at the annual Christmas dinner of the Augustana Book Concern last night in Westerlin Hall on the Augustana College campus. 1988 -- 25 years ago: The Christmas shopping season began early this year and continues to bring out shoppers in record numbers, according to Quad-Cities retailers interviewed today.