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The Towne Players of Garner’s second and last encore presentation of Driving Miss Daisy, presented tonight and twice on Saturday at North Garner Magnet Middle School, is indeed a show to remember. Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt stages playwright Alfred Uhry’s heart-tugging 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning Off-Broadway drama with a sure hand and lots of imagination and special insight; and Frances Stanley (Miss Daisy), Holmes Morrison (Hoke), and Tim Upchurch (Boolie) give incandescent performances, having polished and broadened and deepened their portrayals in each successive production. Last night’s unusually large and enthusiastic opening-night audience gave this energetic encore a well-deserved standing ovation.
Not only was the show better in just about every way; but the plush, cushioned seats and well-spaced rows in the auditorium of North Garner Magnet Middle School were an unexpected treat after the uncomfortable wooden seats and cramped rows of The Garner Historic Auditorium.
In reprising her title role as wealthy Jewish widow Daisy Werthan, a tough old biddy who squawks loudly whenever anyone suggests that she is well-to-do enough to end her penny-pinching ways, Frances Stanley is a true delight. Miss Daisy is testy on the surface, but tender-hearted underneath her temperamental exterior — a real “doodle,” as her son Boolie calls her.
A retired Atlanta school teacher who ages from 72 to 97 in a series of scenes that start in 1948 and end in 1973, Miss Daisy is fiercely independent and deeply resentful when her son Boolie, alarmed by a series of automobile wrecks and near-misses, confiscates her car keys and turns them over to an African-American chauffeur. Despite frequent brushes with anti-Semitism (the story begins in 1948, just 33 years after a Georgia mob lynched Jewish pencil-factory proprietor Leo Frank for the murder in Atlanta of little Mary Phagan), Daisy Werthan has her own stereotypes about “colored people” being lazy and larcenous. These are stereotypes that her soft-spoken but spunky driver, Hoke Colburn, thoroughly explodes.
In his eloquent portrayal of Hoke, Holmes Morrison truly captures the character’s essence — his innate goodness and nobility when confronted with racism in its rankest forms. Although he occasionally speaks a bit too softly to be heard on the very back row, Morrison is in every other way the perfect Hoke, the epitome of a Southern gentleman at a time when many of his fellow residents of Atlanta could not see past his skin color.
While Holmes Morrison and Frances Stanley get the lion’s share of the spotlight, Tim Upchurch steals the show with his finely nuanced comic characterization of Atlanta businessman Boolie Werthan, who must humor both his difficult and headstrong mother and his equally difficult and headstrong wife. Daisy Werthan is determined to live life on her own terms; Boolie’s wife Florine is hell-bent on crashing the upper — and no less anti-Semitic — levels of Atlanta society, even if it means hobnobbing with Episcopalians!
Technical director Scott Honeycutt has expertly employed an armchair, a lamp, and a screen; a couple of stools; and a desk and two chairs to suggest the show’s three locations — the interior of Miss Daisy’s house, the inside of her car, and Boolie’s office — and director Beth Honeycutt has not only found fresh new ways to stage this familiar play, but she has gotten her three-character cast to dig deeper into their roles. The result is a must-see drama, superior to the original production and the first encore presentation — which were highlights of the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 Triangle theater seasons, respectively.
Don’t miss Driving Miss Daisy. Watching it in the comfy, air-conditioned confines of North Garner Magnet Middle School, just a few blocks from The Garner Historic Auditorium, dramatically enhances the audience’s viewing pleasure.
Towne Players of Garner presents Driving Miss Daisy Friday, Aug. 19, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 20, at 2 and 8 p.m. at North Garner Magnet Middle School, 720 Powell Dr., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 seniors and students). 919/779-6144. Towne Players of Garner: http://www.towneplayers.org/. North Garner Magnet Middle School: http://northgarnerms.wcpss.net/ [inactive 12/07]. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097239/.
Towne Players of Garner mainstays Frances Stanley, Holmes Morrison, and Tim Upchurch will reprise their roles in a special encore presentation of Driving Miss Daisy, directed by Beth Honeycutt and staged Aug. 18-20 in a new venue: North Garner Magnet Middle School. This stellar production, restaged as a summer fundraiser, marks the third time that the principals and the Towne Players’ artistic director have tackled two-time Tony Award®-winning playwright Alfred Uhry’s poignant three-character drama about the 25-year friendship between an elderly white Southern lady and her African-American chauffeur.
The Towne Players opened their 1999-2000 season in The Garner Historic Auditorium (now closed for renovation), with Driving Miss Daisy. The troupe repeated the show as a summer encore presentation after its 2000-2001 season.
Director Beth Honeycutt recalls, “I [first] read this show in 1998, and felt it fit our company and our audience beautifully. This is the third and final presentation of this show by The Towne Players.”
Driving Miss Daisy, which made its Off-Broadway debut in 1987 at Playwright’s Horizon in New York City, won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play. The 1989 motion-picture version of the play, adapted for the silver screen by Alfred Uhry and directed by Bruce Beresford, starred Jessica Tandy as Daisy, Morgan Freeman as Hoke, and Dan Aykroyd as Boolie. The film won four 1990 Academy Awards, including the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Tandy), and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Uhry). (Morgan Freeman also received an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Hoke.)
Set in Atlanta, Driving Miss Daisy begins in 1948 — just before the dawn of modern Civil Rights Movement — and continues through the rise and assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The fiercely independent and fearlessly outspoken 72-year-old Daisy Werthan (played by Frances Stanley in the upcoming Towne Players production) is Jewish and well-to-do, but she strongly sympathizes with Dr. King and his supporters, although she retains some of her generation’s prejudices when it comes to her genial, soft-spoken driver Hoke (Holmes Morrison) and other African-Americans in her family’s employ. Consequently, her grown son Boolie (Tim Upchurch) frequently finds himself in the role of referee.
Beth Honeycutt says, “[Driving Miss Daisy] seems so simple on the surface; but, as we continue to discover, there are so many layers and messages in the script. It’s about so much more than racial issues. I also love the characters. They are very real to me. I’ve known so many people just like these whose stories should be told. I actually have based my direction of Daisy, to a large extent, on my grandmother, Golden Lewis. She was definitely a ‘doodle.’”
Honeycutt adds, “Holmes [Morrison] was telling us just the other night that during the scene in which Daisy scolds Hoke for not using the restroom at a service station, he thinks of an incident in his own life. As a young ROTC member, he traveled to Virginia Beach with a group of white fellows from the North. They simply could not understand why he couldn’t go into the movies, shops, or restaurants with them. They just didn’t think about how restricted Holmes was.
“He did, however, get the courage to walk down to the ‘whites only’ beach at one point,” Honeycutt reports, “but he stayed in the freezing cold water for two hours, hoping no one would notice him. When he was too cold to stand it anymore, he got out and went to huddle against the bottom of the boardwalk, again hoping to be out of sight. He fell asleep; but when he awoke, he was surrounded. The police told Holmes he had to leave; and his white friends were so incensed, they left with him.”
The night after Holmes Morrison shared this story with the cast and crew, Honeycutt adds, “He brought in two old photos. One showed him with these friends, and the other was a panoramic shot of the beach full of only white faces. He told me he took the picture to prove to his friends he had really been there.”
Honeycutt says, “Driving Miss Daisy is a sweet, funny show about prejudices, friendships, and growing old. When the aging well-to-do Jewish lady, Daisy Werthan, wrecks her car, her son Boolie decides she has reached the point that she needs a driver. He hires the good-natured Hoke Colburn to take the difficult job. Daisy, who does not want a driver, resists Hoke in the beginning. But, over the course of the next 25 years, the two grow to respect and understand each other as they each struggle with their own prejudices.”
In addition to director Beth Honeycutt, the show’s production team includes her husband, technical director Scott Honeycutt.
“The set of this show is very simple,” claims Beth Honeycutt. “Because the show spans so many years and locations, it is best to keep a good deal for the audiences’ imaginations. For example, all of the cars are represented by two stools. This way, the audience can focus on the actors and the story without by encumbered with ‘stuff.’”
She adds, “The real challenge in this show is moving to a new venue. While our home [at The Garner Historic Auditorium] is undergoing a renovation, we will be performing at North Garner Middle School at 720 Powell Drive in Garner. Luckily, it is right behind The Garner Historic Auditorium, so it should be easy for our audiences to follow us there.”
Towne Players of Garner presents Driving Miss Daisy Thursday-Friday, Aug. 18-19, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 20, at 2 and 8 p.m. at North Garner Magnet Middle School, 720 Powell Dr., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 seniors and students). 919/779-6144. Towne Players of Garner: http://www.towneplayers.org/. North Garner Magnet Middle School: http://northgarnerms.wcpss.net/ [inactive 12/07]. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097239/.