BWW Review: DRIVING MISS DAISY at New Theatre Restaurant
"Driving Miss Daisy" at the New Theatre Restaurant is a charming, heartfelt, funny, well-acted, and inventively conceived production of Albert Uhry's delightful tale about an unlikely, yet enduring twenty-five year friendship in the old south. Playwright Uhry won the triple crown of storytelling for 1987's "Driving Miss Daisy" including a Tony, a Pulitzer Prize, and an Oscar for the 1989 film version.
"Miss Daisy" is a three-person play set in Atlanta, Georgia beginning in 1948. Miss Daisy Werthan (Michael Learned) at 72 years young has long since retired from teaching. Daisy's husband worked hard and became a well-to-do businessman before his death left Daisy a widow. Their son Boolie (David Fritts) has taken over the family printing business. They are of Southern Jewish extraction.
Daisy Werthan is sharp, outspoken, crotchety, fiercely independent, but still all there. Unfortunately, she is no longer able to safely drive herself around Atlanta. She has somehow managed to drive her new 1948 Packard over the top of the neighbor's garage destroyed the Packard, flattened the neighbor's garage, and totaled the neighbor's car. Despite Daisy's protests, Boolie confiscates her keys and determines he will hire his mother a black driver. He settles on a man named Hoke Coleborn (Charlie Robinson). Hoke is one smart, kind, dignified man. He becomes Daisy's oddly devoted partner over the remainder of their lives
Uhry's dialog is an actor's dream. These three actors make the most of their opportunity. The relationships are real and recognizable. Michael Learned as Miss Daisy is best known for her many turns as Momma Olivia Walton, but there is more to this smart actor and lovely woman. She is a pleasure to watch. Charlie Robinson (Hoke) played the taciturn, yet always wise court clerk Mac Robinson during the last eight seasons of the funny, funny TV comedy "Night Court." He brings an identifiable nobility to Hoke. David Fritts is a veteran 30 year Kansas City actor. Fritts' Boolie keeps up with both his fellow actors. Boolie is by turns devoted, irritated, constant, bemused and amused. He is the perceived buffer between Daisy and Hoke. He knows Hoke's true value long before it is realized by Daisy.
The challenge of "Miss Daisy" is the episodic nature of the action, the number of different sets required, and the tremendous amount of time that passes for the actors during the two-hour play. If twenty-five years of living is a challenge for the actors, imagine what it means for the mind that must plausibly conceive of all this.
New Theatre Artistic Director and CEO Dennis Hennessy has conquered these challenges with a center upstage screen positioned behind a full stage turntable. As dozens of familiar projections of news events over years flash on by, sparse but evocative sets rotate smoothly one onto the next with appropriate lighting, blackouts, and dozens of quick costume changes. With understated, but absolutely appropriate simple, scenic design by James Misenheimer, Mr. Hennessey offers us a fully fleshed out "Driving Miss Daisy."
All this seems familiar because it is a family story that could easily be our family. Albert Uhry has offered up his own family's story. Born in 1936, Albert Uhry grew up Jewish in Atlanta Georgia. Miss Daisy stands in for Urhy's own Grandmother, Lena Fox, and Hoke is based on her driver, Will Coleman. Boolie is Urhy's own Dad.
Prior to World War II and throughout the 19th Century Jewish families proliferated all over the South, the Caribbean, and the frontier. They were merchants and jewelers and small manufacturers. Their temples and stores and cemeteries go back hundreds of years and can still be found, but most of the families have since relocated to larger cities. Over three thousand of these early Jewish settlers fought for the Confederate States of America.
Even if you have seen the very fine movie version of "Miss Daisy," these actors make it seem new. Laughing with seven hundred of your closest friends makes this an evening worth experiencing.
"Driving Miss Daisy" will run through November 26. Tickets are available at www.newtheatre.com or by telephone at 913-649-7469.