Granbury Theatre Company
Directed by Kent Whites
Set Design – Phil Groeschel
Sound Design – Kyle Hoffman
Lighting Design – Kalani Morrissette
Costume Design – Marcie Allison
Properties Mistress – Emily Warwick
Tonya Laree – Miss Daisy
Brian Lawson – Boolie Werthan
Ronald Sam – Hoke Coleburn
Photography by: Shad Ramsey,
Reviewed Performance 5/23/2014
Reviewed by Angela Newby, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Relationships can choose to span time, bridge diversity, endure controversy, and anything in between. Driving Miss Daisy tells the story of an elderly, Southern, Jewish white woman, Daisy Werthan, and her African-American chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn over the course of twenty five years, through the birth of civil rights, and the onset of race riots and violence, where this unlikely friendship should not have survived, let alone thrived.
First in a series of plays by Alfred Uhry entitled Atlanta Trilogy, Driving Miss Daisy was originally produced Off-Broadway by Playwrights Horizons in 1987. The original cast included Dana Ivey and Morgan Freeman. The play has been produced around the world and was revived on Broadway in October, 2010 with James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave, running over 180 performances. A film version came out in 1989 with Morgan Freeman recreating his role, Jessica Tandy and Dan Aykroyd. Driving Miss Daisy won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Outer Critics Circle Awards, and the Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay.
Granbury Theatre Company has brought this beloved play to their stage and Director Ken Whites does an amazing job with the show. While the play spans two and a half decades, scene changes were quick and lent to the rapid progression of time with the music. The blocking was effective and made it easy to see the relationship between Daisy and Hoke grow as the play progressed. The choices for the cast were perfect for the roles.
This play was made complete by Sound Designer, Kyle Hoffman. The effects made the production what it was. From the sounds of a car crash in the darkened theater to the musical choices, these were the elements that made the play move quickly and gave purpose to each scene. Hoffman did a spectacular job setting the tone for the play, making one wait in anticipation for the actors to begin the next scene as the music faded away.
Phil Groeschel’s set design and Emily Warwick’s properties worked in sync to set the time period and location, and support the elements of the play. While the scenes were fairly basic, items in Miss Daisy’s parlor, Boolie’s office and the car were carefully selected to show the heart of the characters. The attention to detail in Miss Daisy’s parlor was exactly what was needed to show her wealth without being outright about it.
Lighting operation, designed by Kalani Morrissette was hit or miss within the performance. As the second scene began in the offset office of Boolie, most of it was dark except for a spotlight from the balcony. Finally, lighting from above them came on and from that point on, the light was always on during the office scenes. Morrissette did a beautiful job lighting the front of the stage where all the car scenes take place.
Marcie Allison did a superb job designing the costumes. While Boolie portrayed a very professional businessman in his suit and ties, it was Hoke’s chauffer’s uniform of black suit with suspenders and cap that made the show. In the last scene, Hoke wears a sweater with his slacks, signifying his role as chauffer was slipping into friendship instead. Miss Daisy had the most costume changes and Allison’s eye for detail supported the play’s time progression. From her pearls to the many pleated dresses, each piece fit the age and decade of the play.
Playing Miss Daisy, Tonya Laree was the epitome of a set in her ways, distinguished Southern woman. Her intolerance of both her son and her chauffer was most apparent. Laree’s shrill voice and inflections not only told, but let the audience feel her emotions. She had Miss Daisy go from being calm to irrational in a split second through her facial expressions and hand gestures. From the wringing of her hands and raking fingers through her hair to playing with her pearls, each gesture clued the audience into the non-verbal element of the scenes. Through Laree’s stern looks and exasperated tones, it was easy to see how frustrated Miss Daisy was with her son, Boolie. However, Laree tried a bit too hard in her performance. I did not see her make the twenty five year age transition in her acting. While Miss Daisy starts the play as seventy two and ends as a ninety seven-year-old woman, there was no difference in Laree’s interpretation. This was a distraction and took me out of the performance. In the very last scene Laree’s voice took a distinct turn to a raspy whisper to indicate her advanced age, but it came on immediately and not gradually over time.
Boolie Werthan, played by Brian Lawson, is Daisy’s son who thinks he knows what’s best for his mother. Lawson had this role down pat as he showed Boolie’s patronizing attitude through heavy sighs, hands on hips, and wagging his finger in his mother’s face. There was one repeated gesture Lawson made that foreshadowed the play - Lawson’s under the breath laughs and rolling of his eyes. Each time this was done, you could see that Hoke and Miss Daisy were going to move into a deeper relationship past employee/employer. Boolie’s softer side was also seen through his gentle smile and warm-hearted eyes, as he finally recognized Hoke’s deep importance to the Werthan family. Lawson did not disappoint in the significant role of Boolie.
Ronald Sam portrayed Hoke Coleburn and captured the essence of a black man fighting through the prejudices of his world. Through his easy-going characterization, Sam brought the play’s heart to the audience. With real tears and a heavy voice, Sam reminded the audience of the hatred in America during the Civil Rights Movement. It was interesting to see the progression Hoke goes through in the course of the play. While his character starts as a chauffeur and ends as a family friend, this only truly came alive because of Sam. At the beginning of the play, Sam’s Hoke had a very submissive posture when talking with Boolie or Miss Daisy to show he knows his role as the hired help. But as the play progresses, his voice became more controlled and powerful to let the family know his feelings, no longer hesitant in his speech. Sam never once dropped character. And he could mime objects believably. While driving the car, it actually felt like you were in the car with him, as he was putting on the blinker, fixing the rear-view mirror or looking for blind spots. Sam aged well through the play’s years as the audience saw him slowly become more hunched, develop a slower pace and speech, but most importantly, his eyes became older and wiser. Sam’s confidence grew with Hoke’s, and it was his wide eyes and gentle spirit that overshadowed his lines. He became Hoke in all elements, and there are not words to describe how beautifully Sam played his role.
It was a joy to share both laughter and tears through Driving Miss Daisy with my mom, who always taught me how to value relationships, even the ones that don’t make sense. If you are ready to see how much America has changed since the late 1940’s, this is the play to do it. This production by Granbury Theatre Company will speak to the heart of the audience, and you will walk out changed.
DRIVING MISS DAISY
Granbury Theatre Company
133 East Pearl Street
Granbury, TX 76048
Runs through June 15th
Friday-Saturday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 3:30 pm and Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $20.00, $17.00 for seniors 65+ and students 13+, and $15.00 for children 12 and under.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.granburytheatrecompany.org or call the box office at 817-579-0952.