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Driving Miss Daisy

a Comedy/Drama
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by A Play by Alfred Uhry

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 3359

SHOWING : April 22, 2009 - May 17, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Spanning 1948-73, this 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning play (turned Oscar-winning film) is one of Atlanta's most cherished Southern stories. It's a bumpy road when Hoke, a middle-aged black man, is first hired to chauffeur the aging and resistant Daisy Werthan, a white Jewish doyenne. But in time, their unlikely yet abiding friendship evokes our tears, laughter and faith in love's resilient and revitalizing power. Robert J. Farley, who directed "Daisy's" reigional premiere in Atlanta 21 years ago, returns to direct Jill Jane Clements (Daisy Werthan), Rob Cleveland (Hoke Coleburn), and William S. Murphey (Boolie Werthan).


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Robert Farley
Sound Designer Chris Bartelski
Set & Props Designer M. C. Park
Lighting Designer Mike Post
Costume Designer Joanna Schmink
Hair & Wig Designer J. Montgomery Schuth
Daisy Werthan Jill Jane Clements
Hoke Coleburn Rob Cleveland
Boolie Werthan Bill Murphey
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Time's Arrow
by Dedalus
Friday, May 15, 2009
4.5
Sheís back! Almost twenty-five years after first being driven onto Atlantaís stages, Miss Daisy Werthan is once again coming for a visit. And, for my tastes, itís a welcome, even appropriate return. After all, the main theme of the play is how the passage of time affects ourselves, our relationships, our homes and families. We see these characters change over the course of twenty-five years. Now we get a chance to see if our reactions to this play have grown or changed over a similar period.

My own exposure to the play is no doubt more limited than most. I was living in Harrisburg PA when it first saw life, and read the script long before seeing it on stage. I designed lights for a production before leaving Pennsylvania, and thatís about it until now (the nice 1989 movie excepted). Iíve always found it a pleasant piece, notable more for its characters and acting opportunities than for its rather rose-tinted politics and story. In the right hands it can be moving, even inspiring, and, truth to tell, Iíve never seen it badly done.

And thatís the case here. Three of the best actors in Atlanta (Jill Jane Clements, Rob Cleveland, and William S. Murphey) breathe life into these characters, making me remember why I first found them so appealing. This production honestly brings nothing new to the story Ė thereíre no surprises or intrusively creative flourishes Ė and, for one of the few times in my life, I donít think thatís a bad thing. In this case, itís enough that all their choices are honest and compelling, and I believed in them and their story. Of course, it may just be that itís been a long time since Iíve seen a production, so I wasnít really looking for anything ďnewĒ to brought on stage.

Just to remind the younger of you out there, the play is about a genteel Atlanta matron whose son compels her to hire an African-American chauffeur after a senior-citizen moment behind the wheel. We see the relationship between Miss Daisy and Hoke grow through the scenes and years (all of which blend together in a purposefully undelineated stream) until they truly become the best of friends. We hear talk of the social upheavals that made Atlanta so interesting between 1948 and 1973, but itís really background noise to the real upheavals Ė the changes that time and proximity bring to two strikingly similar, realistically disparate characters. If the politics and disarray of the times are given a rosy veneer, the harsh realities of time and aging are not.

This production is being directed at Theatrical Outfit by Robert Farley, who brought the first cast to Atlanta prior to its breakout success in New York. Since I never saw his original staging, I cannot judge what has changed over the years for him, how his vision of this story, his handling of these characters has grown. I like how everything is kept simple Ė there is no set to speak of, just evocative lighting illuminating various corners of the stage so that the story flows from scene to scene, from year to year, with no interruption, no delay. An original score by Robert Waldman suggests mood but not period so the actual years lose their relevance but the emotional moments remain clear. I was impressed by how quiet this play was, by how it let us find the story, the threads of life without pounding us over the head with clever theatrics. Itís a stark reminder that the best theatrics are those that occur between characters, within the flow of story, and not the ones that come out of clever technological wizardry.

The main thing that has changed for me over the years is that, being a resident of Atlanta now, I recognize the place names and can smile with almost-hometown familiarity at them. Iím also now in the waning years of middle age rather than facing its onset, so I have more patience for stories that are more about relationships than about political soapboxing. I freely admit that I used to have a problem with the playís naÔve portrait of Southern race relations, and, if I had been writing reviews when I first read the play, I would have taken it to task. But, today, I can appreciate the constancy of this piece, the care it takes in creating its characters, the timelessness of its approach (nothing here feels ďdatedĒ or evocative of the years in which it is set). And I can definitely appreciate the skill with which these actors, this director bring to this production.

So, this is definitely a production to see and relish. Itís a wonderful opportunity for a revisit if youíve seen it before, or, if you havenít, itís a wonderful opportunity to get acquainted. And, itís quiet and gentle enough that you leave the theater chuckling over the soft ironies of a play about Timeís Arrow coming across as so, well, as so timeless.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



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Rosy veneer? by uppermiddlebrow
Brad, I think at times the thorn pricks through that rosy veneer which you feel disguises the politics of the play's post-war period.

The scene in which Booly refuses to attend the MLK dinner for fear of being penalized by his business clients is quite painful in his lack of courage and principle, and doubtless very realistic. (The story goes that when MLK was awarded the Nobel, the Atlanta establishment had nothing planned until the Temple rabbi guilted the Woodruffs into putting soemthing on.)

Also sharp are the early scene when Hoke parrots casual anti-Semitism, and the several times when Hoke and Daisy clash over master-servant / white/black issues - like when she won't let him take a pee and when she accuses him of stealing some scraps from the fridge. Sure, they patch it up each time, but the play makes clear that things could easily have gone the other way.

I thought the Temple bombing scene was pointless, but perhaps the point is that Daisy cannot stand Hoke likening it to a lynching. She's still in 'Leo Frank' denial?

Without the political issues, the play would be a very flimsy thing indeed, a mere nostalgia piece. It is pretty flimsy even with them! But there's an edge that saves it. After all, Hoke is Daisy's friend, but we are left to wonder if he'd show up to the nursing home if he were not on a generous pension from her son. Hoke deals with the racial insults that he's suffered all his life by taking a comfortable living in return for minimal duties. And, as a Jew, Booly seems to understand Hoke's game and to sympathize, at the same time that he's buying off his own racial guilt.
Good Points All ... by Dedalus
... and thanks for bringing them up. I suspect my "rosy veneer" reaction is rooted in my Northerner's black-and-white (if you'll forgive the pun) concept of how race relations really worked at the time. The ease with which all racial situations between Hoke and Daisy are resolved is usually what I point to, completely overlooking the other more pointed stuff you cite.
... and yet by uppermiddlebrow
Your comment prompts the thought that many Outfit audience members may miss what I'm noting. I'm likely more aware than most of the Atlanta Jewish perspective that Uhry brings to bear, having received docent training at the Breman Museum, which includes several themes to which "Daisy" refers. Tom Key's core audience tends to be of the liberal Christian persuasion, and for them, if those nuances escape them, the play may be a bit too racially comfortable.

For some reason this makes me recall writhing with embarrassment and anger at a retreat meeting of Atlanta blue blood businessmen some 15 years ago. The conversation got on to Jim Kennedy's (Cox News scion) challenge of Westminster School's policy of employing no Jewish faculty. The old boy's joke was "I'm sure they can resolve it in a Christian manner."
Charming revival of a slice of Atlanta history
by uppermiddlebrow
Saturday, May 2, 2009
4.5
This revival of the Atlanta classic from 21 years ago, which went on to Broadway success, is superbly cast. Jill Jane Clements as the touchy Jewish widow, Rob Cleveland as her chauffeur and Bill Murphey as her son have exactly the right chemistry and evoke just the right tone for these scenes from Atlanta life from the 1940s to the 1960s. Robert Farley directed the Atlanta premiere and directs this revival, and we are in good hands.

It's a charming story, by turns corny, touching and harder-hitting. For anyone with an interest in Atlanta before the growth took off, whether native or newcomer, this will be a treat. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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