Tuesday, June 10, 2014

excerpt from Paula Vogel's interview with Arthur Holmberg

AH: How I Learned to Drive dramatizes in a disturbing way how we receive great harm from the people who love us.

PV: I would reverse that. I would say that we can receive great love from the people who harm us.

AH: Why is it significant to reverse it?

PV: We are now living in a culture of victimization, and great harm can be inflicted by well-intentioned therapists, social workers, and talk show hosts who encourage people to dwell in their identity as victim. Without denying or forgetting the original pain, I wanted to write about the great gifts that can also be inside that box of abuse. My play dramatizes the gifts we receive from the people who hurt us.

AH: So what does Li'l Bit receive?

PV: She received the gift of how to survive.

AH: From her Uncle?

PV: Absolutely. I am going to teach you to drive like a man, he says. He becomes her mentor and shows her a way of thinking ahead ten steps down the road before anyone else to figure out what the other guy is going to do before he does it. That not only enables her to survive but actually enables her, I think, to reject him and destroy him.

AH: And she does destroy him.

PV: He gives her the gifts to do that. He gives her the training. He gives her the ego formation. You, he says, you've got a fire in the head. He gives her gifts in just about every scene. He teaches her the importance of herself as an individual and the ability to strategize to protect that. It's all there in the driving lessons. It's abuse simultaneously with a kind of affirmation and reassurance.

AH: In Drive, Li'l Bit looks at her painful memories, processes the experiences, and then moves on. Why is it important to forgive the harm?

PV: Many people stay rooted in anger against transgressions that occurred in childhood, and this rage will be directed to other people in their adult lives and toward themselves. Whether we call it forgiveness or understanding, there comes a moment when the past has to be processed, and we have to find some control. There are two forgivenesses in the play. One forgiveness for Peck, but the most crucial forgiveness would be Li'l Bit's forgiving Li'l Bit. Li'l Bit as an adult looking at and understanding her complicity . . .

AH: . . . her destructiveness. You once said that it was important to give the audience a catharsis.

PV: Catharsis purges the pity and the terror and enables the audience to transcend them. So you have her memories of the final confrontation with Peck in the hotel room and afterwards the flashback to the first driving lesson. And then the last scene, which brings us up to the present. This is a movement forward. For me, purgation means a forward movement.