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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Driving Miss Daisy

Driving Miss Daisy
Rosemary Prinz and mel Johnson, Jr.
Driving Miss Daisy, which some may recall as an Academy Award winning feature film, is also a lovely, warm-hearted, affecting stage play. Hartford's TheaterWorks demonstrates playwright Alfred Uhry's intimate touches and wry wit through a sweet and touching production which concludes on October 14th. Director Rob Ruggiero applies detail while utilizing adroit performances from Rosemary Prinz as aging Atlanta widow Daisy Werthan, John Leonard Thompson as her son Boolie, and Mel Johnson, Jr. as her chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn.

One is startled as a car crashes and crashes and the evening begins (amid darkness). Boolie determines that his seventy-something mother, who was a dedicated schoolteacher, will not drive again. She is not pleased and even more irritated to learn that a new man, who happens to be African-American, will drive her around and about. Daisy's Judaism bids her visit the local synagogue and fetch necessary goods at a nearby store the Piggly Wiggly. Hoke and Daisy's coexistence ultimately yields to lasting friendship. An odd, eccentric couple, with specifically defined roles, theirs is an eccentric yet evolutionary bond.

Daisy, initially, is tough, sarcastic and silver-tongued. Tiny yet tenacious, she isn't one to welcome Hoke with a hug and a kiss. He, as the play develops, speaks his feelings while mincing fewer words. Finally, he asserts himself.

Designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella provides a thrust stage which includes, toward the rear, a large wooden-framed picture box screen. Hence, scenes shift from a drawing room with floral print to a pastoral vista and so on. Hegel and Ruggiero create mood and tone through the shifting backdrop. Robert Waldman's original musical theme, appropriate, is over-utilized.

Prinz, cast as Daisy many times previously, is temperamental and idiosyncratic in the role. She has appeared at TheaterWorks in the past, giving stellar performances in such plays as Kimberly Akimbo and Last Lists of My Mad Mother. Thompson, tall and graceful, is disciplined and absorbing. It would not be surprising if many remember Daisy as a two character play. Boolie (played with a neat combination of spirit and care by Thompson) is essential as Uhry's script unfolds.

Driving Miss Daisy won the Pulitzer Prize for playwright Uhry. I learned, through a phone conversation with him a month ago, that this was his first play, one he just felt moved to write. He has created memorable characters and, through them, speaks philosophically and suitably about Atlanta and environs 1948-1973, the time period for the ninety-minute play.

To be succinct, one believes in these actors. The performances are instantly convincing. The text asks that they become emotional, perceptive and aware through the sweep of the evening. As her health fails and she approaches ninety years of age, Prinz's Daisy grows stooped and unsteady. If anything, the actress' talent becomes even more apparent.

Ruggiero's direction allows for Uhry's words and vision to actualize. The director is fortunate to work with a trio of estimable actors. What he does is to facilitate and coax so that Prinz, Johnson and Thompson are able to actualize their gifts. As a result, Driving Miss Daisy, a period piece, continues to inspire.

Driving Miss Daisy will be presented by TheaterWorks in Hartford through October 14th. For ticket and schedule information, visit theaterworkshartford.org or call (860) 527-7838.


Photo: Lanny Nagler


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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