To properly share these words there needs to be a bit of a backstory.
The genesis of Grab Your Group and GO was and remains the act of grabbing people and getting them to the theater to experience the performing arts as a group. In the early years we went once a month, which increased to 3 times a month. We took an enforced pandemic break and upon our return we now go weekly and sometimes twice a week.
Among this group of 800+ people, primarily New Yorkers, there is a lovely array of varying personalities and tastes with one cross commonality: a love and appreciation for the performing arts. And we see everything – for example in the month of April alone we went to: Funny Girl, Birthday Candles, American Buffalo, SUFFS, and How I Learned to Drive. It is the best. I get to see old friends, make new friends and explore culture with some regulars. And I am constantly meeting new people and adding them to the group. Highly recommend being part of a theater group!
One of my favorite parts of the whole operation is the 15 minutes before the show when we get to exchange quick hellos and hugs while the tickets get handed over. The pre-show buzz, the excited anticipation, and just seeing smiling faces is addictive entertainment all on its own. But sometimes, sometimes I do stand alone as I wait for folks to arrive because trains can be delayed and dinner checks can be slow to materialize. This, if there is not a security dog outside to visit with, gives me time to think which is okay too.
And think is exactly what I did this past week outside the theater for How I Learned to Drive. It had been a flurry of a week and must admit I was a little spent. Standing there envelopes in hand, my eyes gazed across the street to the purple hued theater for SIX. I kinda wished we were going to SIX instead. My mood was more pop musical than memory play. It occurred to me how funny to have these two offerings directly across from one another. Could the two shows be any more different? At 8pm they would start within minutes of one another, but the two audiences a mere 100 feet apart would have two starkly opposing experiences.
This same thought rumbled through my head the next morning as I considered the difficult content that was explored at How I Learned to Drive. By difficult and uncomfortable content I mean sexual abuse of a young girl throughout her childhood by her sometimes well meaning, but really difficult to watch and disturbingly affectionate uncle.
The play bravely and in no uncertain terms explores and dissects many themes: the powerlessness of the female protagonist, the perpetual and repeated offenses of the male predator, the confusion of why sexual abuse is happening and keeps happening over and over and over again, the give and the take and bartering between the victim and her predator, the acceptance of the abuse within the circles of both people, the blame that can be cast often in the entirely wrong direction ie towards the victim and the self blame the victim inflicts on herself.
Well you know what themes are being explored across the street at the kicky and super fun and sparkly SIX? THE SAME EXACT ONES, but with music and a contest about which Queen of Henry the VIII had it the worst. Mary-Louise Parker geniusly playing Little Bit in How I Learned to Drive is the seventh Queen right across from the Queens in SIX, valiantly and quite brilliantly telling her story in a deliberately oversize flannel shirt of why she had it the worst in a contest with no winners.
I have been to both shows with groups. At SIX everyone bounced out of the theater smiling and laughing. After How I Learned to Drive? Eyes were diverted down and the exit from the theater was subdued and swift. Same content of a tale as old as time, but without the fairytale ending and with wildly different delivery systems.
Fascinating and all kinds of sad that women at the center of a maelstrom of sexual abuse can be such a pervasive theme in the performing arts and all forms of entertainment. Perhaps the more the theme is explored the less these transgressions will occur? One sure can hope and dream, but even this optimist is doubtful. Very sad and endlessly perplexing.
The playwright of How I Learned to Drive said it best in the letter that is thoughtfully included in the Playbill. Must thank Stacie for pointing that out – I never get to have that time honored treasure of the flip through The Playbill prior to the show. Maybe the one downside of having a theater group?
In the last paragraph Paula Vogel says…. “To audiences who still believe that it is important to sit together in a darkened theatre to witness what happens in our midst so that we may change it for the next generation. I am grateful.”
So well said Ms. Vogel. We will continue to gather and sit together as a group in a darkened theater and if we can be a part of this change for the next generation? All the better. Thank you for giving us yet another powerful reason for why we should.