Adelaide Fringe 2012
Daisy Werthan finds herself in the company of Hoke Colburn when her son Boolie hires him to be her chauffeur. After a rough start they begin to like and understand each other. With the civil rights movement always present in the background, as Hoke and Daisy grow old together they come to understand how much in common they have, and yet also how much they can learn from each other through their differences. Guy Masterson’s Centre for International Theatre does Andrew Uhrey’s famous play justice, with powerhouse performances bringing to life the thought-provoking dialogue and themes.
Southern Jewish matron Daisy Werthan is informed by her son Boolie that she is going to have to hire a chauffeur, as she has recently been involved in a traffic accident. Against the proud Daisy’s wishes, Boolie employs the genial Hoke Colburn. Daisy is initially hostile to Hoke, but through his patience and kindness, he manages to wear down her defences, and a friendship grows between them. Even though at the outset they seem complete opposites, Hoke and Daisy share the same concerns, namely their social standing in mid-fifties Southern society. Hoke faces discrimination daily because he is black, and Daisy’s synagogue is bombed by the Klan. Even Boolie, who is Hoke’s friend and defender, is wary of being publicly friendly with African-Americans in case he loses his business connections. As age begins to catch up with Daisy and Hoke, they come to realise that the most important things in life are self-worth, independence, respect, and the unconditional love of a true friend.
Much like Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus, Driving Miss Daisy strives to show that the most significant moments in the civil rights movement weren’t often big gestures, but small moments that defy expectation. Working with award-winning dialogue which is rich in subtext and tightly written, the actors treat the material with reverence, and craft fully dimensional characters. Marilyn Lynch, as Miss Daisy, is brilliant as the woman who presents herself to the world as an old battle-axe in order to disguise her growing fears about being irrelevant. Lynch makes what could have easily been an old stereotypical harridan so likeable that by the end of the play, when Daisy is hunched over and wheezing, there were many sighs of sympathy from the audience. Bob Paisley is an appropriately blustering and funny Boolie, and Harvey Williams is the lynchpin of the show as Hoke. Good-hearted and bumbling (but never foolish), Williams never forgets that underneath the surface, Hoke is brimming with anger at that which is unjust. Whenever Williams raised his voice, the mood would automatically change from tranquil to tense as the racially-charged scene would play out.
The set was sparse, but the three leads had such chemistry together that too many props would have simply been a distraction. That being said, the period costumes were very detailed and accurate. The cast are also American, so thankfully there were no terrible faux-Southern accents.
I haven’t seen the film version of Driving Miss Daisy, so I went into this play with an open mind, however I would encourage others to appreciate this version for what it is. A play with great dialogue, well-rounded characters and potent themes.