Moving play shows value of friendship
Most people who have heard of or seen Alfred Uhry’s ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ have done so via the 1989 film starring Morgan Freeman that won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
However, it was a stage drama before that-a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1988. After seeing the drama performed, it is clear that Uhry’s tale is best told live.
The play, which is running at Syracuse Stage through Nov. 12, tells the story of Daisy Werthan, an elderly Jewish woman living in Atlanta who loses her ability to drive as she ages. Her son Boolie hires Hoke, a black man, to be his mother’s chauffeur.
Daisy, Hoke and Boolie are the only three characters in the play, giving it an intimate, personal feel.
The play begins in 1948 and spans 25 years, set during the Civil Rights Era in the Deep South. While it seems like race would be a pivotal theme of the play, it actually plays a very minor role. This was one of the most surprising aspects of the drama, as Hoke’s race is never an issue with Daisy or her son.
The only time racism rears its ugly head is when Boolie refuses to go with Daisy to a dinner at which Martin Luther King, Jr. will be speaking, saying it would hurt his business.
The play instead focuses on friendships and growing old. At first, Daisy will not let Hoke drive her anywhere, refusing to accept the fact that she cannot do it herself. As the story unfolds, she begins to accept her reliance on Hoke, and her chauffeur gradually becomes a close friend.
‘You’re my best friend, Hoke,’ Daisy admits in a later scene, after she goes into a delusional rage, thinking she is still a schoolteacher.
The odd friendship between Daisy and Hoke is one of the play’s strongest points. It develops inversely with the characters; as Daisy and Hoke grow old and frail, their friendship flourishes and grows. In the end, Daisy is left completely unable to fend for herself, while her relationship with Hoke is strong and unbreakable.
In early scenes, the chemistry between Daisy, played by Tony Award-winner Elizabeth Franz, and Hoke, played by William Charles Mitchell, is awkward. It seems as if the two are fighting for no reason, and Daisy’s arguments with Hoke seem too scripted and forced.
Franz, who won the Best Actress Tony in 1999 for the Broadway revival of ‘Death of a Salesman,’ seemed a bit removed from her award-winning days. Many of her lines, whether angry, sad or joyous, were delivered in the same, shaky, monotonous old-woman voice, lacking emotion.
The relationship between Hoke and Daisy strengthens as the show goes on, and in the last few scenes is believable and moving. In their old age, the only thing the two have to cling to is each other and their sparse visits.
The ending of the play is particularly moving to anyone who has ever experienced witnessing a relative or loved one living out his or her last days. Daisy becomes frail and weak, unable to even eat on her own. Hoke is right there by her side, like any good friend during hard times.
At that moment, the play is at its most powerful. It perfectly demonstrates the qualities and importance of companionship, leaving the audience with a moral: no matter what age, no matter how different, all you really need in life is a good friend.
If you go:
What: ‘Driving Miss Daisy’
When: Tuesday, 2 p.m.; Wednesday, Thursday; 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.
Where: Syracuse Stage, John D. Archbold Theatre, 820 East Genesee Street
How much: $15 – 45
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