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Bethel College theater department to present drama

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- The Bethel College theater department’s spring play will be the dark comedy "How I Learned to Drive" by Paula Vogel. Performances are set for 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, May 5-7, in Krehbiel Auditorium of the Fine Arts Center on the college campus. "How I Learned to Drive" garnered the Obie, Drama Desk, New York Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel awards for "Best Play" in 1997 and the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1998. It is one of the most produced American plays of the last eight years. The New York Times has called it "superb comic drama... haunting... a lovely, harrowing guide to the crippling persistence of one woman’s memories."

Vogel’s play employs the metaphor of driving to explore a seven-year affair between Lil’ Bit, beginning when she is 11, and her uncle. This coming-of-age story, set mostly in Maryland in the ’60s, tells the story of Lil’ Bit’s life from adolescence through adult womanhood, and what she learned from the charming uncle she loved, beyond simple driving techniques and the rules of the road.

In an interview, Paula Vogel described the play this way: "It progresses in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards in the mind of the narrator, Lil’ Bit. In many ways, it’s a love story between Lil’ Bit and Uncle Peck. It’s also, I think, a play about healing, forgiving and moving on."

"‘How I Learned to Drive’ takes a very human and honest look at a subject that often is reduced to disjunctive, good/bad simplicity," said Bethel College assistant professor of communication arts Brent Noel, the play’s director. "The characters are drawn with an ambiguity that goes beyond traditional stereotypes often presented with this kind of relationship.

"Vogel very wisely doesn’t make anyone a complete villain or a complete victim," Noel continued. "Instead, she uses the driving metaphor to show very real characters with complex needs and problems trying to negotiate the hazards encountered on the road of life. And she does it with humor and without blame.

"It’s a beautiful and disturbing play," Noel added.

Following each performances, a representative of the Harvey County Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Task Force (HCDV/SATF) will help facilitate a talk-back session to discuss any issues raised by the performance. Please note that despite its humor, the play deals with mature subject matter and is not recommended for children.

The cast of "How I Learned to Drive" includes Bethany Amstutz, senior from Hillsboro, as Lil’ Bit; J.J. Birky, senior from Colorado Springs, Colo., as Uncle Peck; Caitlin Buerge, freshman from Kansas City, Mo., as Female Greek Chorus; Nicklaus John Schrag, junior from Marion, S.D., as Male Greek Chorus; and Heidi Johnson, sophomore from Topeka, as Teenage Chorus.

Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for students with valid ID. All seating is general admission. Advance tickets are available at Thresher Bookstore in the Schultz Student Center, or by calling (316) 284-5205.

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