‘Driving miss daisy’ travels well with village playhouse
By MARILYN JOZWIK
Published Feb. 18, 2019
There is a movie that is up for a Best Picture Oscar this year called “Green Book” which reminds me of the story in the play “Driving Miss Daisy,” being presented by Village Playhouse. Mary Breitrick is the director.
As in the aforementioned movie, “Miss Daisy” is about race. Both works involve drivers who, through car journeys, get to know their passengers and realize they have more in common than they first thought. In “Green Book,” the driver is a racist Italian bouncer and the passenger is a black musician. In “Miss Daisy,” the driver is black and the passenger is a wealthy white Jewish woman. The story is the transformational journey.
I’m wondering if it is easier to get to know someone, of whom we feel we are greatly different, while riding in a car because we’re not looking at the person. We’re not reminded of the differences in color. If we just listen to the words and learn each other’s stories without considering color difference, it becomes easier to break down barriers and realize that friendship is possible.
Written by Alfred Uhry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is set in Atlanta, Georgia, starting in 1948 and covering Daisy’s last 25 years. The play was the first in Uhry's Atlanta Trilogy, which also includes “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” and “Parade,” and is based on Uhry’s own mother and her driver.
In this show, Daisy Werthan (Mary Buchel) is a wealthy, 72-year-old, fiercely independent widow, whose son, Boolie (Scott Sorensen) is concerned about her deteriorating driving ability. So, he hires a driver for her, a black man named Hoke Coleburn (Andre Lee Ellis).
The relationship does not start well. The first week, Hoke isn’t even able to coax Daisy out of the house while she sulks about Boolie’s arrangement. “I don’t need you. I don’t want you. And I don’t want you talking behind my back,” she rails at Hoke, who is relegated to sitting in the kitchen talking to the maid. Finally, Daisy agrees to have Hoke take her to the Piggly Wiggly. “It only took six days,” says Hoke. “The same time it took the Lord to make the world.”
Hoke proves to be reliable and trustworthy, and before long he and Daisy find points in common, each able to fill in gaps in each other’s lives. When Hoke takes Daisy to the cemetery, he tells her he’s not able to find a grave stone she’s asking about because he doesn’t know how to read. A former schoolteacher, Daisy gives him his first book for Christmas. In the meantime, Hoke is filling up Daisy’s empty spaces of6 loneliness.
Just as in the movie “Green Book,” Hoke also has to pass up a service station when he needs to find a restroom since some are off-limits to blacks.
Another pivotal moment is when they learn that Daisy’s synagogue has been bombed, which prompts Hoke to tell Daisy about the time he found his friend’s father hanging in a tree. He was only 10 or 11.
Uhry’s conversations turn tender as both Hoke and Daisy travel into old age with its physical and mental breakdowns. Toward the end, it is Boolie who balks at seeing a talk by Martin Luther King while Daisy is determined to attend.
The show is a good choice for a small theater group, with its simple set and cast of three. Fortunately, Village Playhouse has found a talented trio in Buchel, Ellis and Sorenson.
Buchel embodies the irascible Daisy, clinging to her Southern ways like a Scarlett O’Hara. I especially enjoyed seeing Buchel’s transformation as Daisy from indignant and quick-tempered toward Hoke and Boolie to gradually softening her ways. In Act II, the change becomes even more apparent as Daisy’s health begins to fail and the steadfast Hoke is at her side. Buchel has Daisy down pat – from her Southern accent to her feisty nature.
Ellis is wonderful as Daisy’s driver, telling stories with an engaging manner, always handling the mercurial Daisy with kid driving gloves. From the moment he’s being interviewed by Boolie, Ellis is comfortable with the gentle Hoke, giving him lots of personality and humanity. Buchel and Ellis do such a good job of portraying just how close their Daisy and Hoke characters have become over the years, and the respect that has grown between them.
Sorenson’s Boolie delivers an equally strong performance. His strong voice also has a nice hint of a Southern accent. Sorenson has a sort of Andy Griffith way of exhorting his stubborn mother that always contains tenderness, like when he ends conversations with the endearing, “You’re a doodle, mama.”
The simple set works well in the small Inspiration Studios venue, although one Act II scene change was long and awkward. Nikki Martich’s costumes are all good choices and the characters age appropriately, with the exception of one character whose gray hair comes in odd patches.
Nonetheless, this is a delightful, well-tuned presentation that was greatly appreciated by the Saturday night crowd, a full house.
If you go:
Who: Village Playhouse
What: “Driving Miss Daisy”
When: Through Feb. 24
Where: Inspiration Studios, 1500 S. 73rd St., West Allis
Tickets/Info: www.villageplayhouse.org; 414-207-4879