BWW Review: Stellar Revival of DRIVING MISS DAISY at the Colony Theatre
Alfred Uhry's 1987 Pulitzer-Prize winning play Driving Miss Daisy is receiving a rare and outstanding revival at the Colony Theatre starring Donna Mills. It originally played off-Broadway and was filmed in 1989 with Jessica Tandy. The play recounts the relationship between Daisy Werthan (Mills) a white Southern Jewish woman and her African-American chauffeur Hoke Colburn (Arthur Richardson). This current production plays the Colony through December 10 only.
The time is 1948; the place, Atlanta, Georgia. The play shows a progression of finely orchestrated scenes spanning 25 years from '48 through 1973. Change is at the core, but for these two divergent souls, it is far from easy. Both Daisy and Hoke are exceedingly stubborn in their beliefs. At first, when Daisy crashes her car and becomes an insurance risk, her son Boolie (James Leo Ryan) insists on hiring a chauffeur in spite of his mother's protests. She refuses to budge for 6 days until finally she gives in and allows Hoke to drive her to the Piggly Wiggly for groceries. As the play progresses, she gets closer to and fonder of Hoke. A retired school teacher, Daisy teaches Hoke to read, and this forms the beginning of their friendship. What Uhry focuses on is racial tension and bigotry at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and it is plain to see that things did not change that much. A black man is still treated as an inferior in the South and Jews, not that much better. And today ... racism goes on...
Daisy is hard-working and proud of her upbringing on Forsythe Street, the poor side of town and denies being rich. Hoke, of course, sees it differently. He has not been as lucky until he meets Boolie and Daisy who teach him not only his ABCs but also a way to cautiously seize the moment and plan wisely for the future. Uhry creates priceless scenes in which we fully experience the deep feelings of the three characters. For example, the Temple is bombed and Daisy becomes agitated and upset as Hoke tells her a story of witnessing the lynching of a black man as a small boy. He sees a parallel; she does not. Years later when Martin Luther King speaks at a public event, Boolie realizes his political connections will be in jeopardy if he attends and backs out. Daisy reluctantly invites Hoke to attend at the last minute, but he refuses to go in. If she had wanted him to go, she should have asked him openly and honestly in the first place. Hoke cites that King stands for integration, but that deep down, majority feelings remain hostile. My favorite scene is where Hoke is driving Daisy to a family dinner out of town and he has to stop the car to make water. She tries to deny him the right, because they are late, but he stands up to her and leaves, taking the keys with him. Each faces off squarely with the other; as a result, a sterling relationship develops and lasts to the end of their lives.
Daisy's a drama, but there is plenty of humor sprinkled throughout. The lines are funny and emanate from character in a given situation, never diminishing the dramatic conflicts.
Overall, it's like watching a little musical concerto where two instruments compliment each other. Sometimes they blend well but not when discordant notes cause friction. The piece, in this way, is universal in symbolizing the ups and downs of any couple's daily routine.
As far as performances go, all three actors are absolutely superb under Heather Provost's superior direction. Her pacing is consistently brisk and bright. Mills is a wonder as Daisy. Her sweet, low key, sensitive approach to it all fits Daisy to a tee. In her moments of deep emotion, she is nothing short of amazing, giving a lovely, intelligent and heartfelt performance. Richardson is delightful as Hoke. Uhry gives Hoke much of the humor, and Richardson delivers it with panache. Ryan plays Boolie pretty straight forward. We may not agree with him, but understand his politics and business savvy. Ryan makes him three-dimensional and likable. Florine, Boolie's wife, and Idela, Daisy's maid, present in the film version, are only alluded to in the play.
Genetra Tull's functional set pieces serve the play nicely and Jean Lomasto's period costumes are spot.on. Kudos also to Mike Napoli for sound design which includes the wonderful musical recordings played between scenes. It is so nice to hear Henry Mancini's "Moon River" and Eartha Kitt sing "Santa Baby"...just two examples of the music from the 40s on up through the 70s.
Don't miss Driving Miss Daisy! There is so much to cherish in this beautiful piece of theatre, mainly to be kind to, at all costs, everyone with whom we come in contact. In our present world loving kindness is a must if we expect to see real change. This production is stellar, and it is so good to see Donna Mills onstage in a role to which she brings so much meticulous attention and love.
(photo credit: Justin Wilcox)