Review: ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

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Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents Alfred Uhry’s beloved classic Driving Miss Daisy, starring Karen Grassle and directed by Rick Hammerly. Lauded as one of the finest American stories of the late twentieth century, Driving Miss Daisy follows the bourgeoning friendship between a most unlikely pair during the height of the Civil Rights movement. The script is as witty as it is poignant, and Riverside’s exceptional cast and technical crew do a great job bringing it to the stage.

Bill Grimmette (Hoke Colburn) and Karen Grassle (Daisy Werthan). Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Bill Grimmette (Hoke Colburn) and Karen Grassle (Daisy Werthan). Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Using a backdrop bird’s-eye view of the city of Atlanta and not much else, Scenic Designer Chris Raintree dresses the stage modestly for this production. Known for providing Broadway-quality entertainment for nearly twenty years now, Riverside has exclusively produced many musicals until recently, with  Driving Miss Daisy being only its second stage-play. This takes a considerable load off of the technical team, who usually fill the stage with vibrant color and sound for elaborate song-and-dance numbers. Lighting Designer Michael Jarett and Sound Designer Bethany Gaylen stick with simple-yet-effective techniques as well, so that the audience’s main focus is exactly where it should be for this dialogue-driven play: on the actors.

Best known for her role as “Ma” on the NBC-TV series Little House on the Prairie,  Karen Grassle brings humor and heart to the role of Daisy Werthan, an elderly white Jewish woman who refuses to acknowledge that she needs to give up driving, even after she drives herself and her exasperated son Boolie (Alan Hoffman) into her own living room!

After taking a liking to the friendly African-American Hoke Colburn (an incredible performance by Bill Grimmette), Boolie hires him as a chauffeur for his mother…but is he up for the task? High strung, critically overbearing, and extremely particular, Daisy is not an easy person to get along with. After rudely rebuffing him for nearly a week, she finally concedes to be driven by Hoke, who tells Boolie excitedly, “only took six days. Same time it took the Lord to make the world!”

Their bond, though slow to grow, becomes indelible as the years go on. Set from 1948-1973, we see the highlights from their relationship over a steady period of time, with scenes ranging from light and giddy (like when Daisy finds herself gossiping with Hoke about her busybody neighbors) to significant, heady life changes. It is clear that the two have lived very different lives, and though Hoke repeatedly reminds Daisy of her privilege, she refuses to acknowledge her lofty position. She stubbornly insists that she grew up poor, and worked long and hard to becomes a teacher…a passion that kicks back into gear when she discovers that Hoke cannot read.

 Alan Hoffman (Boolie Werthan) and Karen Grassle (Daisy Werthan). Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Alan Hoffman (Boolie Werthan) and Karen Grassle (Daisy Werthan).
Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

For two people with so little in common, finding common ground is hard…and unpleasant, once they realize that their shared challenge one of prejudice. Being African-American, Hoke is dealing with segregation, and Daisy’s beloved Temple is bombed in the act of a hate crime. Eventually, the two find in each other steady comfort and support. After twenty years of driving together, their friendship transcends all of their differences, and the journey is a beautiful one to watch.

Karen Grassle (Daisy Werthan) and Bill Grimmette (Hoke Colburn). Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Karen Grassle (Daisy Werthan) and Bill Grimmette (Hoke Colburn). Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

With only three characters, casting for this production was paramount, and Riverside could not have done much better. Grimmette and Grassle lend a great dynamic to their characters, and Alan Hoffman gives a buoyant performance as the amable (but overworked) businessman who needs help caring for his difficult mother. The actors have a firm hold on their characters, and work together superbly alongside Rick Hammerly’s direction.

Riverside Center’s production of Driving Miss Daisy provides a solid, satisfying evening of entertainment. Tickets for this limited engagement are going fast, so grab a pair before they drive away!

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without an intermission.

Karen Grassle, Alan Hoffman, and Bill Grimmette. Photo courtesy of Riverside Center for the Performing Arts.

Karen Grassle, Alan Hoffman, and Bill Grimmette. Photo courtesy of Riverside Center for the Performing Arts.

Driving Miss Daisy plays through November 6, 2016 at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts – 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For reservations and tickets, call (540) 370-4300.

LINK:
The Riverside Center for the Performing Arts Presents ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ 9/28-11/6 With Karen Grassle, Bill Grimmette, and Alan Hoffman-Directed by Rick Hammerly by Patrick A’Hearn.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1547.gif

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