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Regional Reviews by Gil Benbrook

Driving Miss Daisy
Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre

Also see Gil's review of Mamma Mia!


Barbara McBain and Al Lowe
Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre is presenting a lovely production of Driving Miss Daisy through January 12th. I would think by now that everyone knows the plot, due to the hugely successful 1989 Oscar winning film, but the play, originally produced Off-Broadway in 1987, is a much more intimate experience. With only a cast of three, and with the most minimal of sets, the play presents the relationship that develops between Daisy, a Jewish woman in her early 70s, and Hoke, her black chauffeur, over a 25 year period in Atlanta from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. Since Daisy has recently wrecked her car and is no longer insurable, her son Boolie enlists Hoke to drive her. At first, the very independent and stern Daisy doesn't want anything to do with having someone drive her around, but she slowly she comes to terms with having this person in her life.

Author Alfred Uhry has crafted an emotional story that uses a series of vignettes to show the relationship that develops between Daisy and Hoke, set against the racial prejudice that was prevalent at the time, especially in the South. There are many humorous moments, but many touching ones too, as Daisy and Hoke forge an unlikely friendship. The play is ultimately a moving story of two very different people who realize they aren't that different after all, and touches upon themes of race, prejudice, religion and ageism. Uhry's dialogue and characters never preach and he has created three multi-dimensional characters that aren't just stereotypes. The play won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Uhry won an Academy Award for his adapted screenplay for the film.

Director Mark-Alan C. Clemente has found three terrific actors to tell this story and has done a remarkable job in his direction of them. Barbara McBain is giving an excellent performance as Daisy, easily handling the many facets and layers of the character. She is at first combative and judgmental, someone who looks down upon Hoke as just another servant who is only there to drive her around, then heartbreaking as she gets older, becomes more frail, and begins to lose her mind. She also doesn't push the moment when Daisy realizes that Hoke is the closest friend she has ever had, delivering the line softly but directly. The way McBain embodies Daisy's strong-willed obstinance in the beginning and, as her relationship with Hoke grows and she changes, her tenderness, is extremely effective. I saw Vanessa Redgrave play Daisy in the recent Broadway revival, but while Redgrave chose a quieter and softer approach to Daisy, McBain's more forceful approach works just as well.

Al Lowe is almost as impressive in his interpretation of Hoke as McBain is in hers of Daisy. He is firm and direct in Hoke's dealings with both Daisy and Boolie, but always in a considerate way. Lowe is giving an appropriately restrained performance, which is a nice counterpoint to McBain's more forceful take. You can easily see how Hoke wins Daisy over, as Lowe is charismatic and exudes charm.

Jeff Carpenter is Daisy's son Boolie and his performance is simple and straightforward, which is exactly the way the part should be played, as Boolie is direct in his dealings with both his mother and Hoke. I appreciated how funny Carpenter makes Boolie, which makes his dealings with Daisy more charming and less harsh, and therefore more realistic. All three actors have no issues with the southern accents as well, never dropping them and being consistent throughout.

This Desert Stages production is in line with the original Off-Broadway production that ran in the late '80s and uses just a few set pieces to effectively present the scenes in the car that Hoke drives Miss Daisy around in—a couple of benches and a steering wheel—as well as just a table and two chairs to represent Daisy's house, and a desk and chairs for Boolie's office. While the set design is minimal I did appreciate the use of projections, including some nice photos from the period and a succession of covers from Ladies Home Journal, to show the passing of the years that the play covers. Costumes by Tamara Treat are lush and period perfect with a nice selection of dresses and outfits for McBain. The only missteps in the production are the over-use of the main musical theme from the film, which is repeated far too many times during the many scene changes, and the just slightly over the top delivery of some of the jokes from both Lowe and Carpenter.

With three very competent performers, including a stellar turn from Barbara McBain as Miss Daisy, the Desert Stages production of Driving Miss Daisy is a production that I highly recommend for fans of the film, those who appreciate well-honed and nicely directed performances, and anyone looking for a play that is both touching and very funny.

Driving Miss Daisy runs through January 12th at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre at 4720 N. Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Tickets can be ordered by calling (480) 483-1664 or at http://desertstages.org/.

Director: Mark-Alan C. Clemente
Assistant Director: Jennifer Lee White
Technical Director: Brent Coatney
Stage Manager: Amanda German
Set Design: Mark-Alan C. Clemente
Lighting Design: Brent Coatney
Set Construction: Brent Coatney, Warren Lueker, Ethan McKeny, John Michelet
Scenic Artists: Ben Garcia, Kristin Barton
Sound and Lights: Amanda German
Video: Ethan McKeny
Costume Designer: Tamara Treat
Costume Assistant: Sarah Houritan
Hair and Makeup: Tamara Treat
Props: Rebecca Rudnyk
Cast:
Barbara McBain: Daisy Werthan
Al Lowe: Hoke Coleburn
Jeff Carpenter: Boolie Werthan


Photo: Heather Butcher

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix



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