by Roger McBain, Evansville Courier & Press
October 7, 2010
Pulitzer-winning play explores family, incest
It has to be harrowing to play Lil' Bit, the object and victim of her Uncle Peck's incestuous desires in "How I Learned to Drive."
It's also tough to play Uncle Peck, says Paul Mindrup.
Mindrup, a senior at the University of Southern Indiana, knew he wanted the part as soon as he heard USI Theatre would stage Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, but he also understood the personal challenge of playing Uncle Peck.
As an actor, "you have to like your character," said Mindrup, even if his actions are reprehensible and ruinous. "You can't play him as a villain — that would just ruin the play."
To play Peck, Mindrup has to be able to see how his character justifies breaking one of society's most universal taboos and victimizing a young relative who looks to him for love and guidance.
And in order to see why Lil' Bit trusts him, Peck has to be likable. Mindrup's approach is to play Peck as someone who sees himself as "a family man, maybe not in the sense most of us think of it, but he's the only one that cares about his niece in this show."
Peck never forces himself on Lil' Bit, "and he always lets her determine what happens," said Mindrup. "And he really does fall in love with her."
Vogel's script helps the audience see that, notes Elliot Wasserman, the show's director. "The genius of this play, what makes it so remarkable, is that it really exposes the larger family dynamic and helps you understand how something like this comes about. Every member of the family has some ownership in this ugliness."
Critics have praised the play's nuanced, sometimes humorous touches, as well.
"The work begins with a comic blitheness and detachment that immediately disarm," wrote a reviewer for the The New York Times. "Then, before you're aware of it, you've fallen into dark, decidedly uncomfortable territory, and it's way too late to pull back."
This production, which opens USI Theatre's 2010-11 season, features sophomore Michele Rose as Lil' Bit, in her first role on USI's stage. Becky Fortner, Alex Hellenberg and Chris Thompson portray a chorus of characters in the play, which opens tonight