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Feminist Drama, Continued

Notes towards Day 25
Critical Feminist Studies

Feminist Drama, Continued:
"How I Learned to Drive"

I. coursekeeping and announcements
Lucille Clifton reading in Ely Room @ 7:30 tonight (after supper w/ me....:)
19 children's books, 12 collections of poetry, 1 book of autobiographical prose
Nora! HAVE to check out "poem in praise of menstruation," Poem to my uterus" and "to my last period"
Ann and Flora: "the mississippi river empties in the gulf"
all of us: four notes to Clark Kent
a womanist descendent of Emily Dickinson, Gwendolyn Brooks...

--performances in class

Alexandra Fenton's
anthro thesis on college students' perspective on feminism
and feminists (with fieldwork @ BMC!)--might I invite her to join us?

--pick up your tickets for Thursday night show @ Wilma, 7:30 p.m.
posting next week about Griffiths' success in Creating an Unreal World....

--portfolios, incl. all postings, final project and self-evals, due Dec. 21

--two sets of evals to complete next week....

--my own:
very exciting course, inter-generationally and among us here

special pleasure for me to work with Ann and Nydia (like the communal!)

--esp. struck by strength of identity politics: trans-, queer, lesbian, straight women arguing
that their identity group needs attending to (jrizzo: "straight girls are people too")
ndegeorge: This recent discussion has reminded me of the earlier conversation we had on womanism and the issues of exclusion....That brings us down to the core of questioning what "the feminist project" is. I think what we've all realized in the past semester is that we all have different ideals and goals of feminism that may directly conflict with another's vision of feminism. We may even find contradictions in our own ideas which is totally frustrating....I found womanism appealing (I didn't even realize initially I wasn't supposed to be a part of it) until I saw that it shouldn't apply to me....maybe I was looking for some vague idea of "sisterhood," instead I find divisions, within groups, within ourselves. It's disheartening some how. I really liked the quote "womanism is to feminism as lavender is to purple" I like the idea that they are different but that they can still complement each other. I would like to think that race and sexual orientation could color different shades of feminism, rather than separate themselves from it.

matos: In response to Abby's and Jessy's posts...Peter was also semi-victimized in this story. He was turned away from the "women's only" march for being "paternal" and "caustic". I think this goes with the theme of "feminism" being inclusive only on the surface.

llauher: I second Abby's notion that Peter and Scoop blend to become a single, oppressing voice and force against Heidi. I feel like this is where Matos' point comes in effectively-- I expected (wanted?) Peter to be inherently better than Scoop, whether for his homosexuality (which could put him on the same plane of oppression as Heidi, as a female feminist) or for the simple fact that he knew Heidi so well.

--struck also by your (lack of?) willingness to take responsibility for the class
(Tuesday morning quarterbacking about: texts, topics, foci....)

did we not share assumptions about your role in classroom dynamics? (Nydia's paper....)

If you didn't like what was happening, why didn't you intervene to change it?

tbarryfigu's Reflections: Over the course of the semester, I had decided to stop commenting on the weekly blogs. I, like many of the alum, felt that there was no conversations taking place and felt more comfortable speaking my mind in a classroom where debates could be started and responses were immediate.I felt that many people in the class were either summarizing the texts to prove that they had read them, or using persomal testimony to discontinue conversations. Now, towards the end of the semester, I think it would be interesting to go back through the weeks and make comments based on what we have discussed in class since. I am hoping that some new ideas can come of it and would love if others could contribute to the conversation to see how we have evolved as feminists or merely women studying feminism.

Jessy, Let's Get Intergenerational: I've been vaguely displeased that the alums were not participating in the best way available, but it didn't occur to me that the best way may not seem to be a very good way at all. But conversations only happen if we bother first of all to read other posts and secondly to *reply*. To some extent, it was in *your* hands to create a conversation. If you thought that "many people in the class were either summarizing the texts to prove that they had read them, or using persomal testimony to discontinue conversations", then why didn't you say so? Not in a critical way, but as a way to explore how we communicate, as a way to refine wha others are thinking and how they're thinking.....

II. "How I Learned to Drive..."
a real test for identity politics:

can you empathize w/ the oppressor?

do you want to??

is the goal of feminism forgiveness?

how well does this play work,
as the (almost!) finale for "Critical Feminist Studies"??

I would have liked to read some feminist perpectives on heterosexual sex....What do feminists have to say about making love to the oppressor, subjugator?.....we have yet to really discuss the interesting perpective/dichotomy of the feminist who loves the "enemy" is a perspective and discussion our class
has been missing.

EMaciolek, Progress: When the horrifying occurrences of pedophilia and molestation are set apart from the play, the most appalling aspect of How I Learned to Drive is the fact that the protagonist, Lil Bit, continually asks and demands her rights, but is repeatedly ignored and taken advantage of. Even when her family makes inappropriate comments about her physical appearance and she asks them to stop, no one listens to her. Finally when a woman is allowed by society to better herself independently, her family holds her back and she is crippled for life.

gammyflink, Your Paper: I'm not sure you can "set apart" the pedophilia and molestation in this play. According to Ms. Vogel, the book Lolita was her inspiration for writing the play. Her goal was to address the harmful trauma of victimization and the tendency to demonize those who hurt us....So I think that the pedophilia and molestation are central to the play's feminist perspective.

Drive, she said: Paula Vogel steers her Pulitzer winner to Providence
(The Boston Phoenix, May 14-21, 1998):
Vladimir Nabokov's masterwork was the spark of Vogel's award-winning play,
which looks back on the relationship of a precociously well-endowed young woman and the empathetic male relative who, among other things, teaches her to drive. New York magazine calls the play...a "strangely sympathetic exploration of child molestation."

According to the 46-year-old Vogel, "I've thought of this play for a long, long time....Isn't it fascinating that here I am as a young feminist, an ardent feminist, so drawn in and wrapped up in empathy for Othello and Humbert Humbert? And one of my first thoughts was, 'How would a woman writer do this? Could a woman writer write something where our empathy would be evenly located?'...What I wanted to do was to write a play so equally balanced in empathy that...both men and women would project themselves...equally into Lolita and Humbert Humbert....

"The other thing I've been thinking about since grad school," continues Vogel, "has been how one, as a playwright, can try to get a notion of the interior that novelists give us but plays do not. It's why Aphra Behn quit the stage and invented the novel in the first place. And I thought, 'Okay, now that we have...all these techniques that Virginia Woolf really didn't have access to, ways of dramatizing that interior and of dramatizing stasis, it's possible.' This has allowed a flowering of women playwrights since the '60s....

"All of my plays are concerned with the different ways it feels to be a woman in this world, to walk down the street as a woman. I don't know if there will ever be a way to solve the biological rupture, but the cultural differences wrought by secondary sexual characteristics are great."

...The primary cause of writing this was not to trumpet any cause at all. It was to think about... the empathy question and to try to have a balancing act. I think balancing acts are exactly what theater should be doing, because otherwise the playwright becomes a god with a thesis"....Vogel...has come to be thought of as something of a polemicist..."seen as this kind of hot-button, issue-oriented playwright. I think issues are very useful to...try and make an audience look at different sides of an issue. But I don't have a thesis."

She doesn't even have a thesis about the labels stuck to us all like little Post-Its. "I don't hate being 'a lesbian woman playwright.' I think there's no choice. And I'm aware that the thing that has kept me out of a lot of theater companies, or has slowed down the progress of the career (and gender and race do that), is also beneficial in How I Learned To Drive. I think the fact that it's a woman writing the play allows people to relax to the complicity that the play explores on Li'l Bit's part. We would have much more difficulty with a male author.

"And do I feel comfortable with that? Not really. I hate categorization.
At the same time, I think we have to exhaust categorization in order to break through it....there are two discourses going on. One is the discourse between the audience and the stage. You don't want categorization in there. You want to break through it. That's what you do when you explore something as a journey for an evening.

Then there's the discourse outside the theater, and it's extremely politicized right now. At this point in time, in this political climate, it would be irresponsible of me, as a teacher and a mentor to young men and women regardless of their sexuality, not to be out. It would be reprehensible of me to have a brother who died of AIDS but suffered far more from the homophobia that he experienced and not to be out.

"I regret that it's one more categorization we're going to have to break through. 'Oh, a woman wrote this play.' 'Oh, a lesbian wrote this play.' 'Oh, a Providence playwright wrote this play.' Ideally, regardless of all the hype, what happens in How I Learned To Drive is that an intimacy is developed. This play demands very good actors and very honest directors and some privacy in the room between those artists and the audience. And hopefully, everything else melts away."

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript (April 16, 1998):
... it's a love story between Little Bit and her uncle, Uncle Peck, and it's also, I think, a play about healing, forgiving and moving on. And I should also add it's a comedy in places....

I wanted to do this in a very gentle way...I started this thinking...if this could be done as Lolita from Lolita's point of view....having watched a kind of climate of victimization occur...I sometimes feel that being in that kind of mind set...causes almost as much trauma as the original abuse. And so in many ways I think I felt that it's a mistake to demonize the people who hurt us, and that's how I wanted to approach the play....

I've been so far blessed with actors...just knowing how to tread that tight rope between comedy and tragedy. ... I call it the Jewish gene in me....Some of the funniest moments I think I've experienced in my life have been in family funerals....

there's a...balancing act for drama right now...between entertainment but also subjects that hurt us, topics that hurt us. I believe that what theater does best is it creates a community.
And I think in recent years because there's a political climate in this country that the arts feel under attack, there's been a tendency to, in essence, escape in our dramas, and to me, entertainment and political subject matter go hand in 4th Century B.C. in the Greek democracy, citizens were required to go to the theater. It was a requirement of all citizens because we come together as people and we go through a communal experience, a journey, and to me a good play does not give a message or have just one point of view. It should be a dialogue. It should be a dialect. And, to me, if there are 200 people in the theater, there will be 200 plays that the audience see, each one for themselves, that night.

Let's perform the last two scenes of the play (picking it up on p. 86):
"You and the Reverse Gear," and
"Driving in Today's World"

we need Li'l Bit, Uncle Peck, Male Greek Chorus, Female Greek Chorus and...
A Voice

So...what do you see?
Hear? Feel? Think?
How "balanced"is Vogel's act?

How balanced "should " it be?

@ the end of her summary of Tuesday's class, Rachel asked
-what do we want an audience to feel when an feminist production is put on?
-do we want to feel UNSETTLED?
Perhaps "How I Learned to Drive" will provoke an even greater unsettled feeling...

Did it?