Review: Driving Miss Daisy
Driving Miss Daisy is a delight. The enjoyment comes not so much from playwright Alfred Uhry’s words but from what veteran actors Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones do with them.
The Broadway stars more than rise to expectations, in fact, they hold together this charming, if slight play about the growth of a friendship between an elderly Jewish woman and her chauffeur in the decades following World War II.
In 1948, in the southern US state of Georgia, a white, 72-year-old dowager, Daisy Wertham (Lansbury), crashes her new automobile and is rendered uninsurable. Her concerned son Boolie (Boyd Gaines) hires Hoke Coleburn (Jones), a wily African-American widower in his early sixties, to be her driver. Miss Daisy is put out, to say the least, believing Hoke will disrupt the set routines that rule her comfortable world and he is, of course, a reminder of her lost independence. She is prickly and suspicious but the ever patient Hoke allows himself to be amused by her and we follow them as he drives her around ‘The Peach State’ until her early 90s.
Uhry received the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this play but it already feels quite dated. While set during a time of black struggle, it looks at racism and its consequences but any biting commentary is kept in check. It is not meant to be confronting. Uhry is more interested in the relationship between two very different people and how it changes over the passage of time.
The 90-minute comedy-drama is kept buoyant by David Esbjornson’s light directorial touch and by the star power of the two leads. From the moment Lansbury and Jones step out of the wings, they offer nuanced, unaffected performances where each and every gesture reveals something of character. Gaines, a four-time Tony award winner, is also excellent as the dutiful son and in serving the play, also represents the wealthy, white Atlanta society.
I liked it a lot without loving it. Still judging from the moist eyes I spotted at the end when the entire audience leapt to their feet, I feel I might be in the minority.
[Image] Angela Lansbury in Driving Miss Daisy. Photo: Jeff Busby
Driving Miss Daisy, Theatre Royal. Until March 31. Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or phone 1300 723 038