Driving Miss Daisy is a lovely play. And it’s a magnificent family album.
Look at the cover: Simple and understated, Uhry’s award-winning script was inspired by his own car-wrecking 72-year old grandmother for whom the family hired a chauffeur. It is a play about an uneasy friendship that builds over 25 years. Even more, Driving Miss Daisy is a celebration of dignity and Ford’s Theatre’s new production stirs the heart and revives the spirit.
Turn the page in the family scrapbook and meet Daisy Werthan in all her complex glory. To say she is feisty and independent merely scratches the surface. Intelligent, with a razor sharp wit, Daisy holds on to her dignity like battle armor. Portrayed here by Nancy Robinette, Daisy’s every nuance is on display; the gifted actress inhabits the role as if it were written for her.
After a car accident, Werthan stands firm to her devoted son Boolie – an affable performance by Ron Heneghan. She will not give up any of her independence. Boolie insists on hiring a driver while his mother holds her ground that it will be on her terms.
As we turn the page again, we find the portrait of another pillar of dignity, Hoke Coleburn, a man of color and a veteran driver. Drawn with the same complexity as Daisy, Hoke’s sweet nature is tempered by pride in his work and his commitment to being his own man, despite the fact that he is a black man in the Deep South on the verge of turbulent times. Craig Wallace, like Robinette, brings his prodigious acting gifts to the table as Hoke. The new driver promises Boolie, once hired, “I will hold on no matter which way she run me,” and he is as good as his word.
When Daisy meets Hoke, the inevitable clash of wills favors the former fifth grade teacher who was raised to do for herself, as Daisy reveals. Hoke wears her down and with a drive to the Piggly Wiggly at the astounding speed of 19 miles per hour, a shaky partnership is forged.
Throughout the rest of the play, as the years progress, the snapshots show the fertile relationship between the proud reformed Jewish widow and the honorable black man who quietly earns her trust. Atlanta’s burgeoning Civil Rights Movement serves as a backdrop and is interwoven seamlessly into the action, including Hoke’s revelation to Miss Daisy that the temple she attends was bombed. “Why bomb the temple,” she asks Hoke, “we’re reformed Jews.” The people who would bomb a Jewish temple feel the same way about you as they do black people, Hoke replies.
DRIVING MISS DAISY
Closes October 26, 2014
511 Tenth Street, N.W. Washington
1 hour, 20 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $33 – $72
Tuesdays thru Sundays
But Driving Miss Daisy goes beyond race; it is really about acceptance on a personal scale where race is only one facet considered, and dignity – there’s that word again – is part and parcel of their unique friendship. When Hoke reveals he cannot read, Daisy, the old school teacher, shows him he can. Later in life when, age catches up with Daisy, Hoke is there to take her hand.
Director Jennifer L. Nelson, aside from assembling a perfect cast, keeps the action moving with brevity that allows each snapshot scene to unfold efficiently. Nelson, with sound designer Elisheba Ittoop, also uses an evocative soundtrack of American Standards to herald the changing years from scene to scene.
Tony Cisek’s scenic design, with elegant decorative panels and simple set pieces, adds variety to the storytelling- particularly the progression of vehicles Hoke drives. Represented by an old-fashioned steering wheel and upholstered bench seats, the audience’s imagination fills in the chassis and new paint job.
Dan Covey’s lighting compliments the scenic design with understated grace while the costumes, designed by Helen Huang, establish the time period with muted tones and an eye for detail.
For a company dedicated to theatre that educates and stirs, and to promoting the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, Ford’s Theatre is excellent at presenting first class productions that serve their mission. Driving Miss Daisy fits that bill to a “t.”
Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry . Directed by Jennifer L. Nelson . Featuring Nancy Robinette and Craig Wallace, and Ron Heneghan . Scenic design Tony Cisek. Costume design Helen Huang. Lighting design Dan Covey. Sound design Elisheba Ittoop. Wig and make-up design Anne Newman. Dialects Lynn Watson. Stage managers Brandon Prendergast and Hannah R. O’Neill. Produced by Ford’s Theatre . Reviewed by Jeffrey Walker.
DRIVING MISS DAISY
Closes Oct 26
Roger Catlin . MDTheatreGuide rolls start to finish like a well cared for Packard,
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post tools around smoothly, thanks to the confidently low-throttled, purring performances by Craig Wallace and Nancy Robinette.
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld anything but a same-old kind of production of a familiar play.
Michael Poandl . DCMetroTheaterArts Authentic, heartfelt, and deeply entertaining…
Susan Galbraith says
Seeing these three actors work together is a reminder why theatre can be both harrowingly truthful and yet uplifting. As an adult daughter of a once highly-independent mother now almost one hundred and suffering from dementia, I suffered too watching the tension and frustration of Miss Daisy’s son, played by the wonderful actor Ron Heneghan — the receiver of insults and ingratitude from his mother, the son who desired connection with a stubborn parent but also respected her right to live as she wished. I also felt the nuanced and complex emotional journey mapped for us so beautifully by Nancy Robinette — her fears and anger as the world changed around her and she could no longer keep a grip, even on her own mind. Finally, I felt how terribly arduous and painful it must have been for actor Craig Wallace to go into those places he had to go and then put on the brave and patient face a colored man needed to then to survive. The moment when on stage Wallace and Robinette showed us how their characters wanted so badly but couldn’t get beyond their pride and their societal norms to go in together to a dinner for Dr. King — I wanted to scream, “No, no!” It will be a moment I will carry with me all my days, I do believe. What theatre can do!
For those who saw the film, while it was well performed and a nice story, it doesn’t prepare you for the raw power of this focused three-actor play.