Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Driving Miss Daisy

Over the weekend I did a two show day trip to Cumberland County Playhouse. My second show of the day was Driving Miss Daisy. The Academy Award winning movie from the late 80s was actually based on the play (not the other way around), and that play won a Pulitzer prize in 1988.

I've never seen the movie, though the iconic movie poster is one I feel like I've always known. What actually got my interest was the recent Broadway production of the show that starred James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave. I missed seeing the show (like I miss many Broadway shows), but I was thrilled to see it was on the season for Cumberland County Playhouse.

Driving Miss Daisy takes place in Atlanta over a span 25 years, beginning in 1948. In the very first scene Miss Daisy Werthan and her son Boolie are arguing about Miss Daisy's ability (or inability) to continue driving. After a string of accidents, Boolie feels Miss Daisy needs to have a hired driver to take her where she needs to go. Miss Daisy disagrees.

Carol Irvin & Michael Ruff
Taken from Cumberland County Playhouse's facebook page

Boolie hires a man to drive her anyway and the rest of the show focuses on the relationship between Miss Daisy and her driver, Hoke Coleburn. Hoke and Miss Daisy have an interesting relationship that progresses from Miss Daisy barely tolerating Hoke's presence and eventually ending in Miss Daisy telling Hoke that he's her best friend.

Also a glaring issue is the fact that Hoke is an uneducated black man in the South before and during the Civil Rights movement and Miss Daisy is a well-off Jewish woman who is a former educator. The beauty of these things is that while it's obvious that they understand their difference and react accordingly with the time period in which the play is set, they also overcome many boundaries in their own way and become friends.

The middle is the important part. To watch the development of both Miss Daisy and Hoke is special. Miss Daisy's transition from mere tolerance to genuine caring (though she fights not to let it show too much) for Hoke is beautiful. Carol Irvin's portrayal of Miss Daisy was heart warming. You couldn't help but love Irvin's Miss Daisy, even though Daisy can be hard to love at times. You see her struggle to accepts not only the fact that she needs Hoke, but that she wants him around.

Michael Ruff's Hoke brings laughter to the show. You see him manipulate Miss Daisy from the beginning. Not in a bad way, but in a way that keeps him in charge, for the most part, but lets Miss Daisy retain her sense of control.

Daniel Black rounds out this small but strong cast. He gives a great performance, showing Boolie's love for his mother and his compassion and caring for Hoke and what Hoke comes to mean to his mother.

This show was staged in the smaller of the two theatres at the Playhouse, the Adventure Theatre. It was a perfect fit for the intimacy of the show. A simple set also adds to the feeling of the show, forcing you to pay attention to the relationships and the interactions of the characters, rather than visual items on stage.

At the heart, Driving Miss Daisy is a love story. Not of romantic love, but the love of friends and the joy that comes from having friends. Even friends that seem like the most unlikely friends that could be. If you're looking for a show that will leave you feeling satisfaction, go see this production. You'll leave both satisfied with seeing a fabulous production, but you'll also leave with the satisfaction that there are still things in the world that can bring you happiness in the most unlikely of ways.

Driving Miss Daisy is playing at Cumberland County Playhouse through April 14th. You can get tickets by calling 931-484-5000 or by clicking HERE.

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