Review: 'Driving Miss Daisy' a delightful, interesting performance

nancy.wellard@cancer.orgMarch 23, 2012 

Alfred Uhry, author of the award-winning "Driving Miss Daisy," stands alone as winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Oscar, and almost every theatrical award possible.

His 1987 play and 1989 film have taken all those top honors, and what's more, audiences through the years have acknowledged and appreciated his intelligent, empathetic, warm-hearted and imaginative work.

Now onstage at the Elizabeth Wallace Theatre of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, "Driving Miss Daisy" combines the genius of Uhry with a remarkable presentation, full of good humor and sharp insights, provided by Jill Jane Clements, (Daisy Werthan), Rob Cleveland (Hoke Coleburn) and William Murphey (Boolie Wherthan). The play is directed by Atlanta's Robert Farley.

"Daisy" is at once entertaining, absorbing, funny, revealing and, most importantly, hopeful. The performance opened my heart and mind.

Though years have passed and times have changed since it was originally written, the deftly acted piece continues to deliver, moving from seriously funny to seriously serious, to tender, then sad, then back again. This is a cross-generational play that resonates with all audiences. No surprise, then, to know that "Daisy" just completed a successful and extended run on Broadway that featured Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.

"Driving Miss Daisy" also was presented in Atlanta in 2008 by Farley with the same cast in the current production at the Arts Center. As a result, the actors are perfectly tuned to each other and offer spot-on characterizations of people going through a series of life-altering experiences.

"Daisy" is set in pre-civil rights era Atlanta and covers a 25-year span beginning in 1948, taking on the heavy issues of prejudice and discrimination. While "Daisy" is about a lot of things, it is not about racism. Rather, this nuanced piece offers more than a glimpse at relationships and a simplistic view of the racist culture at that time. The audience is free to choose how to experience the production and interpret the storyline.

What makes this production work so well is that it is delivered through the unlikely relationship that develops between a snarfy but intelligent 72-year-old Jewish widow, Miss Daisy, and her proud but sensitive and dignified African-American chauffeur, Hoke.

Daisy, old and growing older, is losing her independence. As she is the victim of prejudice herself, she believes that she is not a prejudiced person -- though her actions, at first, would indicate otherwise.

Through the course of the play we see her transformation and are completely overwhelmed at her almost iconic line: "Hoke, you are my best friend."

And Hoke, for his part, puts up his stern defenses when he first meets Miss Daisy and assigns her, and her kind, to his own form of discrimination. How we love joining him in his new awareness brought about by his relationship with Miss Daisy. We see him grow, appreciatively. We also see him stop in his tracks when he feels that Miss Daisy has treated him inappropriately, even patronized him.

Plan to see this phenomenal production about a wonderful friendship that transcends social boundaries. It is delightful, powerful and even heart-stopping.

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