Sunday, February 11, 2018

WOBT: "Driving Miss Daisy"

Alfred Uhry's 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning Driving Miss Daisy is playing at Prattville's Way Off Broadway Theatre to sold-out audiences. The play has been a popular offering at River Region theatres; it and the 1989 film it inspired make box office success almost guaranteed.

Set in Atlanta, and covering some 25 years from 1948-1973, Driving Miss Daisy is both an affectionate story about companionship and aging, and a study of civil rights and segregation in a changing world that even today has got a long way to go.

As the play opens, wealthy 72-year-old Daisy Wertham [Michon Givens] has just wrecked yet another car, prompting her son Boolie [Eric Arvidson] to hire a "colored" chauffeur in the person of Hoke Coleburn [Tommy King]. -- Daisy is a fiercely independent former teacher who guards her independence, and though she claims she is not prejudiced, she refers to all African Americans as "them" and is suspicious of Hoke's behavior.

In a series of vignettes, Daisy grows from her initial mistrust of Hoke, to reluctant acceptance, and in her old age to an eventual admission to him that "you are my best friend"; this is largely due to Hoke's ability to remain dignified in spite of her whims and insults, and his ability to forge a trust through his honesty and perseverance.

Though an exasperated Boolie often excuses his mother's behavior with an affectionately placating "You're a doodle, Mama", and his excuse for not attending a Martin Luther King, Jr. dinner is that doing so might jeopardize his business with white Atlantans, he understands and accepts both Daisy and Hoke better than either of them expect.

The three-person ensemble give strong and believable performances and are generous to one another on stage. They also age convincingly from scene to scene, with subtle adjustments to movement and voice, supported by gradual age make-up. -- Solid work from all.

Usually performed without a break in order to sustain the story's arc and audience involvement with the characters' developing relationships, here director Sam Wallace has chosen to break the tradition with an intermission; this choice, and the lengthy scene changes during blackouts, challenge audiences to remain engaged, and challenge actors to sustain energy from scene to scene.

This notwithstanding, the WOBT production of Driving Miss Daisy clearly received audience approval and identification with its characters.