DRIVING MISS DAISYby Alfred Uhry
Granbury Theatre Company
Director – Shane Brooks
Assistant Director – Matt Beutner
Scenic Designer – Kerry Pavelick
Costume Designer – Drenda Lewis
Prop Mistress – Gaylene Carpenter
Lighting Designer – David Broberg
Sound Designer – Kyle Hoffman
Daisy Werthan – Joyce Eckstein
Hoke Coleburn – A. Solomon Abah Jr.
Boolie Werthan – Chuck King
Reviewed Performance: 1/27/2019
Reviewed by Carol St George, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
My only hesitation about going to see the production was that it might feel too familiar or simply recreate the 1989 Oscar-winning movie (adapted by Uhry from his Pulitzer-winning play) with Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman and Dan Aykroyd. It didn’t on either account. Having seen only the movie, I’d forgotten about the emotional punch it delivers as it politely invites us to take a Sunday drive to view the unpleasant scenery of the deep South, especially the mid-century racist and anti-Semitic culture that smothered Atlanta, Georgia, like stifling summer humidity.
The play takes place mostly in the home, and car, of Daisy Werthan (Joyce Eckstein) from 1948 to 1973. Daisy is a 72-year old, wealthy Jewish widow. Masterfully played by Eckstein, she is fidgety, feisty, opinionated, and racist (but an otherwise gentille elderly Southern lady). Eckstein’s animated face scowls with the defensive look of a woman who’s fought to achieve her social status as a Jewish matron in the heart of the Bible belt. Eckstein slips into the character’s skin effortlessly, becoming the persnickety, quick-tempered Daisy through and through, even aging convincingly with progressive frailty.
A. Solomon Abah Jr. is Daisy’s perfect foil as the long-suffering, infinitely patient Hoke Coleburn, who has been hired by her son Boolie (Chuck King) to be her “colored” chauffeur when Daisy can no longer drive. Abah is astonishingly natural as Hoke. He steps carefully around Daisy, and tolerantly bears her racially tinged disdain with nary an eyeroll, though we can see the pain behind his beneficent smile and “yes’m.” Despite his controlled acquiescence, he’s no Stepin Fetchit, and he maintains his dignity to the end. His demeanor, vernacular dialect and obligatory self-deference are spot on.
Chuck King as Boolie Werthan is the consummate Southern businessman. With his drawl and good-old-boy charm, King plays Boolie with warmth and humor. He’s an honest, devoted son who shows genuine affection for Hoke, even while struggling with the ugly truth that he must play by white man’s rules, showing no visible tolerance of civil rights (“I still have to do business in this town”).
The emotional arc of the play follows the relationship between Daisy and Hoke. Daisy has been dragged kicking and screaming into the arrangement of having a driver and staunchly defends her racist opinions (“You know they’re always stealing!”), but slowly softens her view of Hoke as they grow into an enduring friendship. Eckstein skillfully reveals the moment Daisy’s heart starts melting, ironically during an ice storm. As they both age, she becomes more vulnerable and he more caregiving. For anyone who has witnessed a parent decline, the final scene is quite moving.
Just about everything in Driving Miss Daisy is perfect. Director Shane Brooks has beautifully directed his actors to pull us into a truthful, all-to-human story about relationships, prejudice, the South, and social change. Brooks’ program notes confess that pulling off this charged but often funny story with a small cast is no cakewalk: “It is a challenge to direct three people” But in praise of his players, he adds, “These three came in with a vision of how to bring these iconic characters to life. Their commitment to this show is the only thing that makes it work.” I disagree with him there. It’s clear that he had a lot to do with what works about the production.
Scenic designer Kerry Pavelick created just enough of a set to take us into Daisy’s living room, complete with flowered wallpaper, a sentimental flower still life on the wall and Victorian sofa, wingback chair, and end table. The other major stage piece is the interior of a 1950s-vintage sedan with bench seats and steering wheel mounted to a turntable that actually turns as Hoke drives.
David Broberg’s lighting design captures times of day, the passage of days, even passing years authentically. And Kyle Hoffman’s sound design was a pitch perfect recreation of the era with incidental music ranging from jazz to sacred, from Gene Autry to Earth Kitt. Everything used to create the story melds seamlessly into it.
Granbury Theatre Company’s Driving Miss Daisy is a ride that lingers. It’s worth seeing for Hoke’s line near the end that, for me, epitomizes its takeaway: “How do you know what I see ‘less you looking through my eyes.” We’re left hoping that Daisy has begun to understand that, and we hope we do the same. I urge you to take a look. Just gas up the Pontiac and go.
Granbury Opera House
Runs through February 10, 2019