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Play explores impact of sexual abuse

| Friday, October 26, 2018

Exploring the themes of manipulation and control within American family life, the Notre Dame Student Players will present “How I Learned Drive” by Paula Vogel from Nov. 1 through Nov. 4 in the Washington Hall Lab Theatre.

The play follows a woman nicknamed Li’l Bit as she reflects on the sexual abuse she suffered by her Uncle Peck as a young adult.

Junior and director Maria Amenabar Farias said the play offers unique insight into the often complex relationships victims have with their abusers. While Uncle Peck abuses Li’l Bit in secret, he maintains the facade of a respectable family man, she said.

“[Peck] is presented as this amazing guy,” she said. “He’s charming. The author even wrote in this play that he should be thought of as an Atticus Finch.”

Senior and stage manager Maria Pope said watching the events of the play through Li’l Bit’s eyes allows the audience to view her relationship with Uncle Peck with greater depth.

“It lets us examine [Li’l Bit] as a character and the complexities with which she views her uncle who is abusing her,” she said. “He’s not just this evil figure in her life, she sees him in many different ways.”

Amenabar Farias said delving deep into the text of the script was crucial to gain an understanding of the “psychology and the objectives” of the characters.

“Everything we do, I ask myself, ‘What’s the purpose of the scene? How do we get the actors to tell the story that we want them to tell,’” she said.

Senior Alexander Daugherty, assistant director, said the play refrains from showing the physical abuse in order to place greater emphasis on Li’l Bit and her growth as a character.

“The focus is on her, her words, what she’s saying,” he said.

Amenabar Farias said despite the fact that no assault is shown, the play communicates the gravity of the abuse just as effectively.

“We don’t sugarcoat [the abuse],” she said. “We’re not pretending they’re not happening, but we present them in a very elegant and graceful manner, I would say, because we know we’re dealing with very delicate subjects.”

Though the play does not ignore the hardships abuse brings into the lives of its victims is not absent of, it also does not neglect to celebrate victims overcoming their pasts.

“It’s such a beautiful story about something that’s so awful,” Amenabar Farias said. “We find the beauty in the character’s life and how she’s not defined by what’s happening to her.”

Amenabar Farias said she hopes the play offers a means for understanding victims of abuse as well as inspiration for all those facing adversity.

“This play is sort of a way to see that you are stronger than all problems you’ve had to face in life,” she said.

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

Contact Mary