Encore Michigan

Open Book presents ‘How I Learned To Drive’ 5/19-6/18

Show Announcement May 16, 2023

TRENTON, MI–How I Learned to Drive at Open Book Theatre presents a coming of age story that is a heart wrenching, hilarious and surprising tale of survival

In 1997, Paula Vogel shook the theatre world with her Pulitzer Prize winning play How I Learned to Drive. Two decades later, this heart wrenching, hilarious and surprising tale of survival opens at Open Book Theatre Company in Trenton on May 19th and will run until June 18th. The play tells the story of a woman we only know by her childhood nickname “Li’l Bit.”   The play begins with Li’l Bit addressing the audience. “Sometimes, to tell a secret, you first have to teach a lesson.” Masterfully veering in and out of personal memory, Li’l Bit reveals details about her coming of age in Maryland in the 1960s.

The play was first long before the #metoo movement and public conversations about consent.  Today, it still hits home as one of the most complex examinations of sexual abuse and survival. The play uses humor and heart and complex storytelling, rather than shock and violence.  “When I was writing How I Learned to Drive, I wanted to give young people a gift that this can be survived. This is survived,” said Vogel.

The central relationship in the play is between Li’l Bit and her Uncle Peck, who teaches her how to drive… among other lessons.  Li’l Bit feels seen and understood by her uncle, who frequently reminds her that he has loved her since the day she was born. He is kind and gentle, when the world around her feels like it is not.  He gives Li’l Bit a false sense of control, when in reality, he is steering the car.   

The play reminds us that the majority of sexual predators are people known to their victims. They are people we trust. People we see as good. People who see themselves as good.

Actor Phil Hughes is able to hold this truth comfortably when discussing the character he portrays.  “He believes in love. He believes in things that are good.  He believes in helping others.  His flaw is in recognizing where his own actions cross a line and begin to be destructive and hurtful and veer away from what is good and true.”

The play also examines how outside influences can support, turn away from, and even hide sexual abuse.  “This play is so relevant.  Every woman I know has a story about how they were sexualized at a young age, and how that affected them,” says Open Book Artistic Director Krista Schafer, who also plays Li’l Bit. “Years later people still talk about the things an older man said to them, or how the boys in school teased them.  It’s a societal wide problem.  It’s not just the obvious predators.  Our whole society sexualizes young girls. They grow up surrounded by mixed messages, to be both sexy and desirable yet also to remain pure and untouched. We are all complicit.”

A chorus of three actors, Amelia Hefferon, Diana Turner and V Martin, step in and out of various other roles, playing family members, school mates, and more. 

“Despite its heavy subject matter, this play is FUNNY!” says actress Hefferon. “There are several moments of levity and total silliness–lots of laugh out loud moments in rehearsal” Director Adriane Galea agrees saying “This is actually a really funny show. It’s not a comedy by any stretch, but it finds perfect moments to offer up some big laughs.”

When coming to see How I Learned to Drive, audiences should expect to laugh, to cry, and to sit with uncomfortable and complicated emotions. Hughes summed it up best when he said “The play is written however from a perspective of love and grace, both for the main character and those who surround her. No one character is written as the villain, even though some things happen that are truly villainous.  If audiences will be open to the idea that love and coping and forgiveness and healing and humor can come from unexpected places, they will enjoy the story immensely.”

 “I’m hoping the way the story is told supports the general theme of healing being complicated and non-linear and evolving in the way we view it.” says Galea “My goal was to tell the story in a way that is neutral. The themes are so charged and the audience will almost inevitably come in having pre-formed opinions about a lot of what happens in the show, I wanted to present something without the creative teams’ opinions piled on. I think that does the show and the intentions of the show justice.”

The play is written by Paula Vogel, and directed by Adriane Galea.  It features Krista Schafer as Li’l Bit, Phil Hughes as Peck,  and Amelia Hefferon, V Martin, and Diana Turner as the chorus of other characters. Scenic Design by Eric Niece, and built by Gordon Mosley. Lighting Design by Harley Miah. Costume Design by Cheryl Zemke. Property Design by Samantha Silva. Sound Design by Frannie Shepherd-Bates. Stage managed by Kiah Manthei. Intimacy Choreography by Vicki Morgan.

Open Book Theatre Company is a nonprofit arts organization in Trenton, Michigan that promotes connection through theatrical storytelling. Now in their 9th season, the established theatre works with local artists to bring the Downriver community professional theatre right in their backyard. Nestled right off of Fort St., and across from a seasonal Dairy Queen, Open Book is conveniently located to bring anyone the thrill of live theatre and human connection.

Individual tickets are only $30 for general admission, $25 for seniors, and $15 for students. Opening Night includes an after glow and all tickets are $35. Tickets can be purchased online at openbooktc.com or through the box office. More information can be found online or by calling 734 288-7753.   The first two weekends (through the end of May) all audience, staff and volunteers will be required to wear masks. The final three weekends masks will be optional. 


Open Book Theatre Company

1621 West Road, Trenton, MI 48183

734 288-7753


Show tickets: $30 for general admission, $25 for seniors, $15 for students

May 19, 20, 26, 27 and June 2, 3, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 at 8pm

Sundays May 21 & 28 and June 4, 11, 18 at 2pm