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Talk about a back seat driver! Was there ever one who more solidly fit the description than Miss Daisy? “Park over there by the blue car!” she instructs her chauffeur. Not that there is any reason for being by the blue car. It’s just that Miss Daisy wants it done her way, no matter what.
We all know the story line. Now we can see it with fresh eyes at the Sierra Madre Playhouse that tells the tale anew with only three characters: an elderly southern Jewish matron whose son Boolie hires an African American driver because he doesn’t trust his mother’s driving any more.
We’ve watched the feisty power struggle among them in the 1989 movie starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. We’ve cherished the emerging relations that eventually, over a quarter-century, segue into true friendship. But if we think we’ve seen the only possible interpretation, we haven’t seen it at the Playhouse!
Here director Christian Lebano imaginatively presents us with a series of vignettes. He has plucked pivotal moments in the Daisy/Hoke relationship, and offers each as a snapshot in time. Quick scene changes move us through the protagonists’ ongoing confrontations, offering lots of laughs as they cajole and outwit each other..
This is an intimate story, well-suited to the intimate ambience of the Playhouse. No theatergoer is very far from Miss Daisy and Hoke, so we feel we are taking the journey with them. The emergence of understanding and friendship between the two is a microcosm of changing attitudes in the United States during the turbulent Civil Rights Era.
These three characters could not be more perfectly cast. Mary Lou Rosato in her first Sierra Madre Playhouse appearance conveys every emotion Miss Daisy feels. The stubborn set of her jaw. The wavering moments when she senses her own vulnerability. The astonishment as new ideas challenge her long-held, unacknowledged biases. Her “aha!” moments when she briefly triumphs over either Boolie or Hoke.
Despite her eccentric demands, Hoke patiently complies. Indeed, he complies a lot. Boolie pays Hoke’s salary, but Miss Daisy won’t let him do anything—not drive her for groceries, not help plant her garden, not anything! As Hoke, Willie C. Carpenter lets us see both his subservience to Miss Daisy, and his firm strength of character as a man in his own right. We sense something of what is was like for people of both races in those turbulent ‘40s in the South. (Mitch Ward will play Hoke on Feb. 1, 9, and 17.) And Brad Reed gives just the right touch to Boolie’s frustration dealing with his stubborn, albeit much-loved mother.
This sparkling play runs less than 90 minutes and has no intermission. On opening night as the lights went down on the poignant final curtain, the audience immediately rose to show appreciation with a rousing standing ovation! You’ll love revisiting these iconic people, too.
Lebano’s sparseness of characters parallels Gary Wissmann’s minimalistic stage design. Daisy’s car is but two benches, her home little more than a chair and side table, and Boolie’s office a plain desk.
Alfred Uhry won the Pulitzer Prize for his comedy-drama, and an Oscar for its screenplay adaptation. At the Playhouse, Estelle Campbell is the managing producer, with Sherrie Lofton and Deborah Reed as producers. Lighting design is by Sammy Ross, costuming by Kristen Kopp, sound by Barry Schwam, wig and makeup by Cristina Waltz, and graphics by David Byrd. Original music is by Jonathan Beard.
The programme offers a chronology of the Civil Rights movement. It also contains thought- provoking questions to pique our post-play discussions with friends.
“Driving Miss Daisy” will continue at the Playhouse weekends through March 9. Curtain times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $22 for seniors 65 years and older, $15 for students 13-21 with IDs, and $12 for children 12 years and younger.
The Sierra Madre Playhouse is located at 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. City lots offer free parking. Pre- or post-theater dining at local restaurants on Baldwin Avenue and Sierra Madre Boulevard can enhance your theater-going experience. For ticket reservations or more information, phone (626) 355-4318, or visit the website, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org, for online ticketing.
By Fran Syverson