I can't think of a more appropriate day to run this review than Valentine's Day. This poignant, pleasant comedy/drama is, after all, simply a love story.
Not sensuously passionate love.Not boy-catches-girl love.
Not even May-December love.
Just the bond that grows between a feisty grand dame and her equally stubborn "colored" chauffeur.
OK, in the issues-conscious '90s, the driver would be referred to more properly as an African American - but during the 25-year span that "Driving Miss Daisy" encompasses, "colored' would be the kindest description by a genteel Jewish widow such as Daisy Worthen for Hoke Coleburn, the "show-fer" her frustrated son hires after her Packard runs through the hedge and into a wall. (The wall won.) "It was the car's fault!" Daisy tells Boolie, her son, as they're arguing about her driving capabilities when the lights first come up on the opening scene.
It's 1948, and Daisy, a retired fifth-grade schoolteacher with a mind of her own, is 72.
During the next 90 minutes, playwright Alfred Uhry's wonderful Pulitzer Prize-winning dialogue will take Daisy, Hoke and Boolie across 25 years of poignant moments, family squabbles, daughter-in-law's excesses, misunderstandings, racial ten-sion and the building of a warm bond between the Atlanta woman and her firm, but patient, driver.
Hoke does the driving. Daisy does the driving up the wall. Boolie drifts in and out - consoling, counseling and refereeing.
The passage of time, while Miss Daisy ages from 72 to 97, is more subtle than in the immensely popular movie version (and comparisons are bound to be made). There are references to events and surroundings, however, to help pinpoint where (and when) we are - salmon's only 37-cents a can at the nearby Piggly-Wiggly market early in the play, but later, during a power outage and blizzard, Hoke (who is expert at driving anywhere) brings some comfort to Daisy with a couple plastic cups of coffee from the '60s answer to the old mom-and-pop corner store - 7-Eleven.
The acting throughout "Driving Miss Daisy" is first-rate all the way. With only three characters, this is a demanding work - a play that requires a trio of outstanding actors.
Ann Shropshire, Herb Lovelle and Samuel Maupin as Daisy, Hoke and Boolie imbue Uhry's characters with rich, three-dimensional personalities.
The subtle nuances in the dialogue, the tiny gestures, the warmth that develops between Hoke and Daisy - this is an acting team that doesn't have to take a back seat to anyone (whether or not Daisy is back-seat driving).
Ariel Ballif's simple set never intrudes on the action. I wondered (as did the sweet, elderly woman I sat next to) how the actors would be able to keep their balance on what appeared to be a heavily sloped stage. Certainly the pencils should've rolled off Boolie's desk.
Linda Sarver's costumes and Peter L. Willardson's lighting also kept the various time frames in perspective.
Uhry's play is packed with gentle humor and insightful wit, while managing to get in some commentary on the prejudices of the Deep South from the late '40s to the early '70s. ("Her idea of heaven is socializing with the Episcopalians!" Daisy exclaims to Boolie when she comments about his wife's lifestyle.) Told with brilliant dialogue but a spartan set, "Driving Miss Daisy" is simply beautiful. . .and beautifully simple.