Saturday, April 30, 2011

Red Door: "Driving Miss Daisy"

Alfred Uhry's popular prize-winning Driving Miss Daisy is showing at the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs under the sensitive direction of Fiona Macleod.

With countless stage presentations, and a film version to its credit, and several Broadway revivals [the current one stars Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones]Uhry's play provides plenty of opportunities for its three-member cast to demonstrate their skills and remind audiences of the importance of friendship.

In its numerous episodes, Uhry recounts the twenty-five year relationship between Daisy [Anne Brabham], a well-to-do elderly Atlanta Jewish matron, and her African American chauffeur Hoke [Stan Cooks] who was hired by Daisy's son Boolie [Danny Davidson] despite his mother's protestations of impinging on her independence. When Boolie instigates getting his mother a chauffeur, he is met first with refusal, then resistance, and finally capitulation. Throughout the 2+-hours' playing time, Mr. Davidson's patience pays off as he maneouvers her to thinking she is making decisions on her own and is in control.

In Ms. Macleod's gentle handling, the journey taken by Miss Daisy and Hoke builds in its numerous episodes from fractious resistance to growing comfort, outspokenness, trust, and friendship. -- Unlikely as it is from their first moments together [especially considering the racial & social chasms between them in 1948] by its end in 1973, these characters have changed along with the times.

As Daisy, Ms. Brabham is unflinching in her insistence that she is neither prejudiced nor putting on airs, yet she continually treats Hoke as an inferior in both subtle & direct ways, and it is to her credit that the steps in her journey to self-realization are almost imperceptible and that in her final days it is he alone she wants for company.

Whether in quiet domestic scenes, travelling in a sequence of more modern cars [suggested on-stage by chairs and a steering wheel], facing a bomb-attack on Daisy's Temple, attending a banquet for Martin Luther King, Jr., Daisy teaching Hoke to read, or criticizing Boolie's wife's cooking and celebrations of Christian holidays, this production makes the most of mixing humor and pathos to truthfully depict the humanity of its characters.

Mr. Davidson is utterly convincing as Boolie; his frustrations in satisfying his mother's whims conflicting with his love for her are done with humor and compassion as he attempts to ease most conflicts with the refrain: "You're a doodle, Mama."

Mr. Cooks's Hoke is an animated and clever representation of a man used to the prejudices against him and his race who nonetheless is his own man who gets what he wants through charm and wit. Though he slyly negotiates the terms of his chauffeur's contract with Boolie, he is unselfish in his care for a woman who resists him, making Daisy realize that ultimately he has become her only and truest friend.

This Driving Miss Daisy chalks up another in a long line of successful Red Door Theatre productions by Ms. Macleod.