6/30/2019 DRIVING MISS DAISY Georgia Ensemble Theatre
****½ ( A )
(Slacker’s Note: This is a restaging of the same production from March, moved to the more intimate venue of the Conant Art Center at Oglethorpe University, with Miss Daisy recast with the rapturously wonderful Ellen McQueen. Yes, the new space highlights the intimacy of the piece, and Ms. McQueen’s “take” on the character is somewhat different (but no less valid) than Jill Jane Clements, but the show remains very much the same, so, here is a slightly edited version of my March column.)
In 2009, Theatrical Outfit produced a revival of Alfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy that worked on every level for me. In 2014 most of that cast was tapped to drive it again in Aurora's black box space. And now, they're back , this time to celebrate the anniversary of the first Atlanta production at Roswell's Georgia Ensemble Theatre. Because this is an oft-seen chestnut that still works, still moves, forgive me for me reviving (and editing) my comments on the 2009 and 2014 productions:
She's back! Almost thirty-five years after first being driven onto Atlanta's stages, Miss Daisy Werthan is once again coming for a visit. And, for my tastes, it's a welcome, even appropriate return. After all, the main theme of the play is how the passage of time affects our selves, our relationships, our homes and families. We see these characters change over the course of twenty-five years. Now we get a chance to see if our reactions to this play have grown or changed over a similar period.
Just to remind the younger of you out there, the play is about a genteel Atlanta matron whose son compels her to hire an African-American chauffeur after a senior-citizen moment behind the wheel. We see the relationship between Miss Daisy and Hoke grow through the scenes and years until they truly become the best of friends. We hear talk of the social upheavals that made Atlanta so interesting between 1948 and 1973, but it's really background noise to the real upheavals -- the changes that time and proximity bring to two strikingly similar, realistically disparate characters. If the politics and disarray of the times are given a rosy veneer, the harsh realities of time and aging are not.
As with earlier productions, I was impressed by how quiet this play is, by how it lets us find the story, the threads of life without pounding us over the head with clever theatrics. It's a stark reminder that the best theatrics are those that occur between characters, within the flow of story, and not the ones that come out of clever technological wizardry.
The main thing that has changed for me over the years is that, being a resident of Atlanta now, I recognize the place names and can smile with almost-hometown familiarity at them. It doesn't hurt that the Temple Bombing referred to in the play received a full Alliance Theatre docu-play treatment a couple years ago.
I'm also now in the warm embrace of my golden years, rather than daily living the disappointments of middle age. So, I have more patience for stories that are more about relationships than about political soap-boxing. I freely admit that I used to have a problem with the play's naive portrait of Southern race relations, and, if I had been writing reviews when I first read the play, I would have taken it to task. But, today, I can appreciate the constancy of this piece, the care it takes in creating its characters, the timelessness of its approach (nothing here feels "dated" or less-than-evocative of the years in which it is set). And I can definitely appreciate the skill with which these actors and this director bring to this production.
So, this is definitely a production to see and relish. It's a wonderful opportunity for a revisit if you've seen it before, or, if you haven't, it's a wonderful opportunity to get acquainted. And, it is quiet and gentle enough that you leave the theater chuckling over the soft ironies of a play about Time's Arrow coming across as so, well, as so timeless.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #GETDrivingMissDaisy #NotADoodle)
Postscript: In 2009, I was (perhaps correctly) taken to task for my casual brush-off of the politics of this piece. There are admittedly ugly moments of casual racism and anti-Semitism. My point is that the structure of the play -- short visits to various years along a long spectrum -- requires these issues to be resolved quickly and (perhaps too) easily. I did notice this time that most of the comments and attitudes change over time, a subtle "grace note" that obviously escaped my notice in 2009, but not 2014. This is obviously a play that improves with time. And, my final comment from 2014 seems strangely prescient: Driving Miss Daisy is well worth a revisit every five years or so.