By Danielle Farrow
Director David Esbjornson here revives Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy in a production that is beautifully designed and allows incidences in the lives of a Jewish woman and an African American man in Georgia to shine with their own frictions and connections without over-sentimentality or hard hammering-home of weighty concerns.
Those concerns are clear and about relationships regarding family, society and race. Daisy Werthan, 72 in 1948 and no longer considered able to drive safely, loses some control in her life, edging into the territory of being cared for by her son, Boolie. He engages a chauffeur for her, a driver she refuses to use at first, as she also has issues about being rich. Hoke Coleburn, who coaxes his way into driving her, has his own ideas about Jews and their money which, along with Daisy’s references to ‘them’ (while insisting she isn’t prejudiced) provides humour as well as insight into racial concerns, a strand intricately woven into the play.
Over 25 years, the relationship between Daisy, with her cantankerous insistence on self-sufficiency and how things should be, and Hoke, with his laconic acceptance of life contrasted by times of fight and resistance, develops in a very believable manner. These are real people, sometimes reacting well and sometimes badly, with times of connection and moments where amazing potential is lost due to fears and petulance. But in the end, their humanity, ability to learn and individual dignity means that their relationship keeps growing in strength and beauty.
Esbjornson and his team have created a production which impresses with its atmospheric design. Projections unobtrusively create passing time, topical references (including Martin Luther King and the KKK), scenery for drives and for set locations. These provide the backdrop to a set consisting of a staircase and some household furniture on one side, a desk moving in and out of centre stage and a bench on a small revolve which, when matched with a couple of chairs and a steering wheel, becomes whatever car Hoke is driving Miss Daisy in.
Don Warrington’s Hoke is endearing and believable, though his accent – realistically – does take some tuning into and not all lines carried completely. Gwen Taylor as Daisy seemed to start a little out of her stride, not quite connected to Daisy’s initial fears, but as the play progressed she truly related to Daisy’s changes in physicality, outlook and abilities, building to some very moving moments between the two central characters. As Boolie, Ian Porter brought a different energy, occasionally slightly out of tune with the others in a touch of theatricality not seen elsewhere, but otherwise contrasting well and connecting to the joys and difficulties of family relations and to the prevailing social views where race, religion and privilege affect businesses and lives.
Driving Miss Daisy is an emotional yet unsentimental look at people connecting across divides of lifestyle, belief, culture and race through an interest in life and each other which allows personal growth. This production beautifully illustrates that story, allowing it to shine through and touch its audience.
Until 9th March 2013, 19:30 (21:00) @ King’s Theatre