How Alined to Drive

An older man with a younger girl/woman. 

The now-stereotypical problems wrought from this potentially romantic, sexual, abusive, illicit arrangement boil down to what distinguishes the slash between girl/woman, intersecting with concepts like age, maturity, and physicality. 

The new movie Aline and the current Broadway revival of Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer-winning play How I Learned to Drive challenge our notions of these murky relationships through the same artistic device:

They cast an older actress to play the younger girl; how does the anachronism of embodying youth in an aged body affect how we perceive and conceive their relations?

In How I Learned to Drive, the rest of the ensemble — besides David Morse’s pedophilic uncle — alternate between true-to-age (not to mention race and gender) roles, and characters whose identities do not match the actors’ appearance. This juxtaposition serves as a running commentary in terms of how the specifics of their bodies alter the way we view their interactions.

For both movie and revival, the against-age central casting choice positions each as works of memory. In Aline, having 58-year-old Valerie Lemercier play (a version of) Celine Dion throughout her life — including childhood — emphasizes the introductory title card that labels the story as a fictional take on Celine (thus explaining the name change). No matter the extent of the de-aging effects, their unmissable artifice reinforces the fact that we’re watching fiction.

In How I Learned to Drive, Mary-Louise Parker exaggerates the performative cliches of teenagers, a constant sheen of obvious artifice that underlines the immaturity of her character. AND, the temporally unbound, “ two in simultaneous one” nature of her performance physicalizes her character’s dissociated identity created by the trauma. ALSO, it allows MLP to layer her approach; she’s free to roam between “the moment” AND her character’s latter-day, torn feelings regarding her recollections.

And given this line from Vogel’s program note — “writing How I Learned to Drive gifted me the ability to see my own identity” — the age-inappropriate casting transforms the revival into an act of identity reassociation; she revisits her past to relocate herself.


How I Learned to Drive isn’t the first production this season to utilize dual embodiment to represent a fractured identity on stage: Wolf Play at Soho Rep presented a foster orphan mercilessly thrown from “home” to “home” as both a talking man (dramaturgy: forced to grow up too fast; a kid reckoning with issues that would prove too much even for adults) and a wolf puppet (his lack of agency turns him into a misunderstood wild animal).

Now that I’m thinking about it, the Atlantic Theater Company’s English conveyed fragmented identity through similar theatrical artifice: the cast’s bifurcated accents.

And then there’s the main character’s anthropomorphically personified “Thoughts” in A Strange Loop

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