By Larry Laneer
August 27, 2019
Pollard Theatre Company has opened the new season with a revival of the popular Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry. More than anything, the production raises the questions why this play and why now.
The play begins in 1948 and takes place over the next 30 years. Daisy Werthan was born poor but married into what became an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Atlanta. She is now 72 years old and needs help with driving. Her son, Boolie, hires Hoke Coleburn, a black working-class man, to be her chauffeur. Daisy hates having a personal driver. People might think she’s putting on airs.
Uhry’s script reflects in vivid detail the language, attitudes, customs, and atmosphere of the period. In some ways, Jews, even those of the Atlanta business and professional class, had much in common with blacks. But not everything. At one point, Boolie just can’t bring himself to attend a United Jewish Appeal dinner in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. It may be bad for business, he claims.
Directed by W. Jerome Stevenson, this production features a reassembled cast. The wonderful Brenda Williams plays Daisy, and she captures perfectly the character’s sense of propriety and history. Daisy never lets anyone forget she grew up poor. Albert Bostick makes an animated Hoke at first and reflects later with perspicacity the character’s burdens of old age. Hughes’s well-done Boolie tends to his increasingly high-maintenance mother and holds on to a driver he’s lucky to have for her, while trying to run the family’s successful printing business.
This same cast first did this play for PTC in 1991. Williams and Hughes did it again for PTC in 2001, with Earle Hyman, who played Cosby’s father on The Bill Cosby Show, as Hoke. That production was part of the Stage Center Presents series, in which different theater companies staged shows in the Tolbert, the now-razed Stage Center’s larger, thrust-stage theater. Boy, those were the days.
The production features a quiet, jazzy, often poignant original score by Louise Goldberg, recorded, not played live. When was the last time you saw a play around here with original incidental music? Goldberg’s music acts as a subtle fourth character in the play. It brings the production up a notch.
It’s hard to say for sure why PTC and Stevenson, who is the company’s artistic director, decided to revive this play now. He hasn’t freshened it up, but that may not be possible with this script. Yes, the actors have aged gracefully into their roles. But, today, the play appears in a quite different atmosphere than it did when first staged in 1987 or even in 1991 or 2001. Now, an overt racist is President of the United States, and white nationalists have come out into the open. The characters in this play display decency, respect for others, selflessness, and kindness. In other words, qualities sadly lacking in much of today’s discourse. Very well. That’s reason enough to do the play.
|Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry
Pollard Theatre Company
8:00 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, through September 7, 8:00 p.m. Thursday, September 5,
2:00 p.m. Sunday, September 1
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie