Catching up with Alyssa May Gold of ‘How I Learned to Drive’ on the show’s long-awaited Broadway debut

In June 2020, Alyssa May Gold – NYC-based actress of the stage and screen and founder of the theater and film production company Pocket Universe – shared her insights and excitement about her return to Broadway (where she made her debut in 2011, in the Tony-nominated revival of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia) with Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive. Delayed by the pandemic closure of theaters in the midst of rehearsals, the long-awaited Broadway premiere of the 1997 play, for which Vogel won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, has finally opened to critical acclaim for a limited engagement at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre with Manhattan Theatre Club.

Alyssa May Gold. Photo by Deborah Lopez.

When last we spoke about it, Gold described the play as “an emotionally epic, cathartic, and, ultimately, hopeful story that deals with resilience in the face of trauma.” Inspired to tell her own true story by the 1955 novel Lolita (by Russian-American author Vladimir Nabokov), Vogel’s non-chronological experiential memory play recounts, from a woman’s personal perspective, the trauma of sexual abuse of the adolescent girl L’il Bit by her Uncle Peck, who repeatedly molests her from the ages of eleven to seventeen, while teaching her how to drive. In the new Broadway revival, Gold turns in a stellar performance in the featured role of the Teenage Greek Chorus, appearing as a commentator, the girl’s grandmother, and her eleven-year-old self.

Alyssa made some time in her busy eight-performances-per-week schedule to discuss the show and her part in it again with me, from her current situation of being back on stage before a live audience following the lengthy hiatus.

Alyssa May Gold in How I Learned to Drive. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

How does it feel to be open on Broadway after the two-year pandemic postponement?

Alyssa: It feels so right; that’s the best way to describe it. After the shutdown, it began to surface in me how important the recovery of theater and this play are and doing it now aligns with what I already thought it could be; it feels profound, in addition to being cathartic. It also feels like we’re righting a theatrical wrong. This play was never on Broadway, and we’re putting it where it should have been all along.

Do you have any different perceptions now of the characters you portray than you did in your original rehearsals in 2020?

I think of it more as the unified role of the Teenage Greek Chorus, not as parts individually. We’re these pieces of L’il Bit, of what she remembers and feels, and that’s not an accident. There’s real generational trauma passed down through the women and a connection between them, so it feels like a linear track.

Mary-Louise Parker, Johanna Day, and Alyssa May Gold in How I Learned to Drive. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

How challenging is it to play two such antithetical figures of such different ages and generations?

The most challenging part of playing L’il Bit’s grandma was getting into the ideology of a woman whose ideas are so different from mine, but in the end, I realized it’s all coming from the desire to try to protect the people you love, in the way you can.

For the challenge of aging up and down, I had my own grandmother in my head. How did she sit? How did she move through space? I felt a responsibility to both of these characters, to honor the women of all generations. I wanted to tap into the truth of what they believed, through their own energy and perspectives.

What’s the most important takeaway from the show for present-day viewers, in light of the growing awareness of sexual abuse since it premiered in 1997?

I think it’s two-fold. First, seeing how abuse thrives on empowerment and positive reinforcement, and seeing in intricate detail how someone can be manipulated and exploited. It’s a response to the all-too-prevalent question, “Why didn’t you just leave?” Uncle Peck is the only one who made her feel seen – and that’s how abusers function, by filling in the vulnerabilities with love and support.

The second important message is that whatever has happened to you, whatever you have experienced and endured, you get to move forward. The job of theater is to exercise our empathy and to show our options. This play offers the option of driving forward, to keep going. It’s about forward motion, so I hope people see a path forward, no matter what they’ve been through.

Alyssa May Gold, David Morse, Mary-Louise Parker, Johanna Day, and Chris Myers in How I Learned to Drive. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

What has been the most affecting or affirming reaction you’ve received from the audience, the press, or the team?

The most affirming is the one we’ve gotten for every single performance – we can feel the audience’s attention and energy as if we’re giving water to people in a desert: catharsis, options, energy; taking a deep breath for the first time. It doesn’t stop; it’s the power of theater and of this meaningful, intentionally crafted play. People are saying that it was harrowing, but they feel relief. It takes you in and brings you out, feeling full of hope and empowerment. And what could be better to offer people?

Many thanks, Alyssa, for your time and your thoughtful comments. Great to catch up with you, and congratulations on an outstanding performance!

Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes, without intermission.

How I Learned to Drive plays through Sunday, June 12, 2022, at the Manhattan Theatre Club, performing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $79-299), go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter the building and must wear a mask at all times when inside.


  1. It was just announced that the Tony-nominated production of How I Learned to Drive has been extended for another two weeks, through Sunday, June 12.


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