Encore Michigan

‘Driving Miss Daisy’ at Snug Theatre celebrates love in every color

Review August 31, 2019 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, Mich.–Proof of the notion that the greatest of friendships can arise from the most unlikely situations is taking place on stage at The Snug Theatre in Marine City. Driving Miss Daisy, written by Alfred Uhry and directed by Aaron Smith, can make audiences chuckle, nod, and maybe get choked up.  But it is mostly a demonstration that two souls can be destined to connect even when no one expects them to.

Driving Miss Daisy features a cast of three: Jewish widow Daisy Werthan (Connie Cowper), her son Boolie (Dale Dobson), and African American chauffer Hoke Coleburn (Orson Wingo).  The story takes place in mid-century Atlanta, and unfolds over the course of 20+ years. When Daisy crashes her brand new car, Boolie (and their auto insurance company) decides it is time to get her a driver. Stubborn Daisy is resistant, but it takes Hoke only a week of diplomacy to break her down, and she agrees to take the back seat while he drives.

Miss Daisy is truly a backseat driver, but Hoke resists her attempts to micromanage his driving by speaking just the right amount of truth—somewhere between tact and brutal honesty.  Miss Daisy typically relents gracefully, while never admitting defeat, and Hoke has enough discretion to let her believe she is always in charge.

Even though they maintain the appearance of their formal relationship—employer and employee—their conversations become more relaxed over the months, and they make meaningful connections.  Some are simple, such as laughing together at the gaudy Christmas decorations Boolie’s wife insists on displaying. Some are more tender, such as Hoke’s candid admission to Miss Daisy that he cannot read.  It’s hard to say for sure when their relationship begins changing from that of widow and chauffer to that of developing friends; it may be when Miss Daisy, a retired teacher, gives Hoke a schoolbook (which she insists is definitely not a Christmas present) to help him learn to read.

Tensions arise over the years. On their road trip to visit Miss Daisy’s relatives in Alabama, Hoke confronts her when she tries to prohibit him from stopping to relieve himself.  When they learn of the bombing of Miss Daisy’s temple during the civil rights era, Hoke points out that their peoples are both the object of the same hatred and violence. Miss Daisy pushes that thought away, preferring to perpetuate her own illusion that they are not alike at all.

As Miss Daisy ages and falls prey to dementia, Hoke becomes the one to lovingly speak the truth to her, and in that moment—one innocent, lucid moment—Daisy admits to Hoke that he is her best friend. Even when Hoke gives up driving Miss Daisy, he continues to tenderly care for her as a dear friend would, right up until the final curtain.

The script of Driving Miss Daisy, which won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, should be considered one of the stars of the show, with dialogue that is witty and honest, and faithful to the genteel culture of the mid-century south.

The cast takes the beautifully written script and delivers it to the audience with authenticity and grace. Wingo (who has been award-nominated for playing this role in the past) gives us a soft-spoken Hoke who is frank yet diplomatic, handling Miss Daisy in a manner that even eludes her son. In observing Miss Daisy, he sees beyond her willful exterior and learns to respect and love the real Daisy he discovers inside. Cowper is adept at being the feisty and obstinate, but also the kindhearted and vulnerable, Daisy.  She subtly interprets the progression of Daisy’s age and frailty, as well the development of her affection for Hoke. Dobson is a Boolie who is all business, but astute enough to recognize early on the invaluable asset that they have in Hoke.

The set is simple and relatively static, although Smith uses the backdrop during scene changes to display era-specific photos, not only to denote the passage of time but also to highlight important historical and cultural events. Basic lighting cues are effective at changing the focus and the mood of each scene, and the more dimly and warmly lit moments are rather comforting.  

It’s difficult not to be touched by this tender story of unlikely friendship. The subject matter and language are appropriate even for adolescents (and would likely be a refreshing change from the irreverent and ill-mannered characters that pervade modern children’s entertainment). I dare you not to fall in love with Daisy and Hoke.

Driving Miss Daisy is playing at The Snug Theatre through September 22, 2019.

Week of 2/24/2020

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