It’s time to bring out the sweet tea and church crowns, because Ford’s Theatre has brought a taste of the South to Washington with its spectacular production of Driving Miss Daisy. Authentic, heartfelt, and deeply entertaining, Director Jennifer L. Nelson stages a vibrant reincarnation of Alfred Uhry’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning classic.
The story of Driving Miss Daisy begins when Atlanta matriarch Daisy Werthan (Nancy Robinette) crashes her new Packard into a neighbor’s garage. Over her vehement objections, Daisy’s son, Boolie (Ron Heneghan), hires the outspoken Hoke Coleburn (Craig Wallace) to be her driver. What begins as a relationship marked by distrust and wounded pride eventually blossoms into a deep companionship over the course of 25 years. The emerging friendship between Daisy and Hoke takes place against the backdrop of Atlanta, Georgia, between 1948 and 1973, as the Civil Rights Movement threatens to tear the South apart. The long time frame of the play is punctuated by at least a dozen scene changes, deftly dealt with by Scenic Designer Tony Cisek, who uses a series of small sliding platforms to simply (and quickly) move between settings.
More so than less character driven shows, the strength of any production of Driving Miss Daisy is tied to the quality of the performances. Fortunately for us, all three actors are exceptional. Nancy Robinette is a revelation as the titular Daisy Werthan, and gives a performance that may just set the new standard for what constitutes the definitive “Miss Daisy.” From the first moment to the last, Ms. Robinette, oozing with class in her prim Southern garb (courtesy of Costume Designer Helen Huang) was a thoughtful and engaging presence on stage. Self-centered, ornery, embarrassed at her lately-arrived wealth, Robinette nevertheless makes clear that all Daisy’s steeliness comes from a place of vulnerability and loneliness.
Craig Wallace is equally brilliant as Hoke Coleburn, painting a portrait of a man who learned long ago how to “act right” in front of white folks, but who can never fully hide the strong pride that is at the core of his being. The dynamic between Coleburn and Robinette is by turns tense, funny, explosive, and moving, but it is always entertaining. The show undoubtedly rests on their shoulders, and they carry out the job with apparent ease.
It is impossible to forget about the subject of race too long during Driving Miss Daisy. The cultural norms that led to segregated washrooms and de facto inequality hang in the air like Georgia humidity, refusing to clear away despite Daisy and Hoke’s increasing closeness. It is this latent tension that endows their affection with so much significance, and amplifies their personal story into a much larger and more potent tale.
This is a journey that every theatergoer should take. So drive over to Ford’s Theatre right now and buy your tickets!
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Driving Miss Daisy plays through October 26, 2014 at Ford’s Theatre – 511 10th Street NW, in Washington, D.C. Tickets can be purchased at the door, by calling the Box Office at (202) 347-4833, or by purchasing them online.