It’s rare that a play allows for a more distanced view than that of its cinematic counterpart, but in the case of the Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of Driving Miss Daisy, Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer-prize winning play does just that. Where the close shots of the film afforded an intimate window into the minds of Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, LTA’s production – produced by Carol Strachan and directed by Jim Howard – zooms out in order to examine the external interactions of the characters.
Opening in segregated Atlanta, Georgia in 1948, the 72 year-old, and occasionally cantankerous, Daisy Wertham (played by Patricia Kratzer) is confronted by her son, Boolie Wertham, played by Joel Durgavich, about needing a driver after driving through a neighbor’s garage and garden shed. Stubborn and unhelpful when assigned a driver, Miss Daisy begins her 25-year relationship with Hoke Colburn, played by Kevin Sockwell. The slow, uneven years that follow shift their lives towards friendship and a greater appreciation of the other. What starts with a wary and strained adventure to the Piggly Wiggly, ends with a quiet visit between devoted companions.
Interspersed with moments of personal growth are humorous moments brought to the foreground by Kratzer’s sharp delivery of Miss Daisy’s lashing retorts and Sockwell’s amusing reactions that compensate for his wisely chosen reticence. These more comedic moments were effectively used to expose the strongest inner workings of the characters. Both Kratzer’s Miss Daisy and Durgavich’s Boolie offer their opinions (Miss Daisy) and earnest emotion (Boolie) readily in their performances with every line, while Sockwell’s Hoke may have said or disagreed far less, but his true thoughts were always clearly conveyed to the audience through steadily aging, increasingly tired body language.
Sound design by Lynn Lacey filtered soft jazz through the audience’s pre-show conversations and linked the scenes as the story jumped from year to year. Lighting by Marzanne Claiborne suddenly and wonderfully filled the walls of the house with Christmas color, and the cleverly minimalist sets designed by John Downing, painted by Mona Wargo, and decorated by Jennifer Crier Johnston gave the audience a clear view from the outside to in. Two black framed walls blocked out Miss Daisy’s living room on stage right and Boolie’s office on stage left; while between, the exposed seats, steering wheel, and headlights of Miss Daisy’s many cars through out the show.
Using these minimal surroundings, Director Jim Howard challenged the actors to convey the play’s deep and layered message through movement. At times, silence cut through the air, causing the audience to shift in their seats as the stillness underscored uncomfortable but critical realities of race and religion in America. These moments were buzzing with an undercurrent of meaning both old and new. But it was also those moments of pregnant pause that made me wish the ordinary, transitional silences with the actors on stage were filled with a low car rumble or a soft radio in the living room in order to make any lack of sound all the more intentional and powerful.
Driving in the right direction, this production of Driving Miss Daisy gives the actors room to explore and the audience room to think. And much like that rather bumpy road trip to Mobile, Alabama, in 1963, this drive will eventually get you where you’re going once you take a second look at the map and work together.
Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.