by Lynn on October 9, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, St. Jacobs, Ont. Plays until Oct. 22, 2022.

Written by Alfred Uhry

Directed by Marti Maraden

Set by Allan Wilbee

Costumes by Jennifer Wonnacott

Lighting by Kevin Fraser

Cast: Donna Belleville

Randy Hughson

Cassel Miles

Alfred Uhry’s play, Driving Miss Daisy premiered in 1987. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987. It’s about the relationship between Daisy Werthan (Donna Belleville), an elderly Jewish woman from Georgia and her Black chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn (Cassel Miles). The play covers the time from 1948 to 1973.

At the beginning of the play Daisy Werthan has just demolished her three-week-old car by crashing into a garage and destroying a lot of property. She should have reversed. It was enough for her son Boolie (Randy Hughson) to insist Daisy was too old (at 72!!!) to drive anymore. He wanted to arrange for Daisy to have a “coloured” chauffeur as was the norm at the time. Daisy balked. Boulie prevailed. He did the interviewing. Hoke Coleburn applied and appeared wearing a suit, tie and shoes so polished they gleamed. I thought that actor’s choice by Cassel Miles as Hoke was terrific. Mr. Miles ‘knows’ Hoke, he knows his care, pride in himself and in a way those watching him sit up a bit straighter.

Daisy gives Hoke attitude. She is not happy about this. As Daisy, Donna Belleville seems always to have a clenched jaw. Her sentences are clipped. She always seems to have her arms close to her, pent up.  Everything about this situation is onerous. But she must endure it. She is losing her independence but not her ability to give Hoke some difficulty. Initially she gets out of the car before Hoke can come around and open the door for her. Donna Belleville gives a sturdy, unsentimental performance, so that when Daisy truly realizes how important Hoke is to her, it’s a stunning, heart-squeezing revelation.

And Daisy is just ‘a touch’ racist. When a can of salmon goes missing, she tells Boulie and accuses Hoke saying, “Those people steal.” We can read into it what we want. But Hoke comes in that day with a can of salmon saying that the food she left for him (pork chops!) ‘Were a bit stiff’ so he took a can of salmon instead and then replaced it. Daisy is chastened. Randy Hughson plays Boulie with a lovely resignation. Daisy is difficult, but Boulie knows his way around her, even though she gives him a run for his money. There is clear love in this performance for this difficult woman and true respect for Hoke.

Over time Daisy softens towards Hoke. She depends on him. They have their own secret code of almost joining fingers in conspiratorial ‘knowing.’ It’s a lovely bit of business. Hoke knows the world they live in. He’s keenly aware of racism and Daisy seems oblivious. When Daisy’s synagogue (Temple) is bombed she is incredulous: “Who would do such a thing?” Hoke knows. He says, “You know who would do that, Miss Daisy.” He tells her his own harrowing story of racism. The look of stunned discovery at the cruelty of what he tells her on Donna Belleville’s face is subtle, but resounding.

Marti Maraden has directed Driving Miss Daisy with a light, sensitive hand. The relationships between the characters grows delicately. Nothing is forced. Even the choice of music is underplayed. I note that “Sounds of Silence” is played in the scene change after Daisy hears of the bombing of her synagogue. Stunning. I love it when artists make us look and listen harder.

Is Driving Miss Daisy a light-weight play, that perhaps is dated? I don’t think so. The comments about racism, not just from Hoke, but also from Boulie and what he has chosen to ignore in order to do business, makes one swallow hard. Driving Miss Daisy is a play about friendship, respect and love. And at its centre is a beating heart that is loud. In this angry, often mean-spirited world, the message of the play counts for a lot.

Drayton Entertainment Presents:

Plays until: Oct. 22, 2022.

Running time: 90 minutes approx. (no intermission)

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