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Driving Miss Daisy by two-time Tony Award® winner Alfred Uhry chronicles an extraordinary interracial friendship between the irascible Daisy Werthan, a wealthy Jewish widow and retired schoolteacher (played in the current Theater of the American South presentation by Barbara Farrar), and her easy-going African-American chauffeur Hoke Colburn (portrayed by Paul Garrett). The 1987 Off-Broadway hit and 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner begins in 1948, when its fiercely independent, penny-pinching title character is 72 and living in her own home, and ends in 1973, when she is 97, suffering from dementia and living in a nursing home. The rise of the Civil Rights Movement, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., provides important context.
Chapel Hill director Donna Shannon coaches compelling three-dimensional characterizations from Barbara Farrar and Paul Garrett, both making their Theater of the American South debuts; and Shannon also elicits a crisp comic cameo from Rob Summers, who fusses and fumes as Miss Daisy’s exasperated son Boolie Werthan, the pragmatic head of the family business whose willingness to compromise with the WASP society and sacrifice certain progressive principles in the name of expediency is a constant thorn-in-the-flesh to his uncompromising mother.
Barbara Farrar portrays the highly opinionated but good-hearted Miss Daisy as a real “doodle,” often wrong but never in doubt; and Paul Garrett plays Hoke as an affable, good-natured fellow, who usually acquiesces to Miss Daisy’s whims, no matter how ridiculous, but finally arrives at the end of his rope on their trip to Alabama.
Audience members who have only seen the motion-picture version of Driving Miss Daisy, which took home the 1989 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessica Tandy as Miss Daisy), and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Alfred Uhry, expanding his three-character play to fill the big screen), will find that this terrific drama still packs a powerful dramatic punch. Smart staging by director Donna Shannon underscores the strengths of the stage play, which is performed with brio by an all-star cast on a simple but versatile set designed by Chris Bernier, under a subtle but evocative lighting scheme designed by Matthew E. Adelson, in an eye-catching array of period fashions designed by Sharon Montano. Theater of the American South audiences are in for a memorable drive through a crucial quarter-century of recent American history.
Theater of the American South presents Driving Miss Daisy Thursday, May 24 and 31, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 26 and June 2, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 27 and June 3, at 2 p.m. at the Edna Boykin Cultural Center, 108 Nash St. E, Wilson, North Carolina. $20 ($18 students and seniors 60+). 252/291-4329. ext. 10. Theater of the American South: http://www.theateroftheamericansouth.org/. Edna Boykin Cultural Center: http://www.wilsonarts.com/. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097239/.