Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's reviews of Hand to God, Cave Boys, Hamilton, The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats
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. When Daisy wrecks her car and is no longer insurable, her son hires Hoke to drive her. At first, the very independent and firm Daisy doesn't want anything to do with having someone drive her around, but slowly she comes to terms with having this person in her life.
Uhry's script creates three-dimensional characters and helps paint the developing friendship between these two opposite individuals over a series of short vignettes. The simplicity of the play, which uses just three actors and a few set pieces to portray the various locales, allows for an intimacy to develop between audience and cast that delivers many moving, poignant moments as well as an abundance of humor. Since Uhry has set his play in the South at a time when racial prejudice was on the rise, it allows for a connection to develop between these, at first, vastly different people and touches upon such worldly issues as prejudice and ageism.
I've seen several productions of this play and Barbara McBain and T.A. Burrows deliver two of the best performances of Daisy and Hoke I've seen. Both characters not only age but also grow and learn from their experiences throughout the play, and McBain and Burrows create realistic, layered characters that you immediately connect with.
McBain starts out feisty and stubborn but slowly blossoms into a woman with a tenderness and appreciation for Hoke, whom she first just sees as a man her son hired to drive her around, and in a small way the person who takes part of her independence away from her. Burrows is equally as good in portraying the quiet, respectful man who is used to always being looked down upon by the white people he has worked for but refuses to let his dignity and pride be stripped away from him. Both actors use succinct facial expressions and body language to expertly portray the way their characters' feelings for each other change. When both characters become old and frail toward the end of the play, McBain and Burrows are truly heartbreaking and incredibly poignant in their delivery.
Dale Fridley is equally as good as Daisy's straightforward and direct son Boolie. While Fridley is firm as Boolie, the ways in which he portrays Boolie's dealings with his mother are always filled with respect and an abundance of charm. All three actors also achieve fairly realistic Southern accents throughout the play.
While Driving Miss Daisy has many dramatic moments, fortunately Damon J. Bolling isn't heavy handed with his direction. He lets the comical moments receive big laughs while also letting the more serious and poignant ones feel realistic and not rushed. Even one of the most memorable moments in the play, when Daisy states how important Hoke is to her, is delivered in a quiet way that is filled with both beauty and dignity.
Dorann Matson's simple yet effective set design uses three movable set pieces to portray the interior of Daisy's home, Boolie's home, and the car where many scenes between Daisy and Hoke are set. Tamara Treat's costumes are beautiful and period appropriate, and her hair and make-up designs work well to portray the characters as they age. Drake Dole's lighting design is focused and clear.
Driving Miss Daisy is an intimate, humorous, and ultimately moving story about two very different people. Desert Foothills' gifted cast and direction show that having an incredibly talented trio of actors and a practically perfect script can result in a production that is infused with honesty and truthfulness.
Driving Miss Daisy at Desert Foothills Theater through February 11th, 2018, at the Cactus Shadows Fine Art Center, 33606 N. 60th Street in Scottsdale AZ. Tickets and information on upcoming shows can be found at www.dftheater.org or by calling 480 488-1981.
Directed by Damon J. Bolling