“Driving Miss Daisy”, by playwright Alfred Uhry, is a story based upon his Jewish upbringing in the South during the 50’s and ‘60’s, and the people who populated his life.
There was a three-tier level of society in Atlanta, Georgia, at the time. At the top level, were the Christians. The next level comprised the Jews. And the bottom rung was held by Afro-Americans. Each level didn’t relate to the other levels. But, in this play, an elderly Jewish woman, named Daisy Werthen, has a son, Boolie. He is concerned with his eccentric mother—who has had a number of car crashes—so he hires an out-of-work chauffeur named Hoke Coleburn to shuffle her around. Now Miss Daisy isn’t prejudiced—just “high-minded” and is embarrassed to admit her older age by having such a chauffeur—especially one of Hoke’s color. She eventually bonds and relates with Hoke–“her friend” and it is in this relationship that the heart of the play resides.
In 1987, this was first produced on Broadway, and then it was made into a highly successful movie starring the late Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. Oscars abounded, and Mr. Uhry won one as well for his screenplay.
Now it is reborn at the Golden Theatre on 45th Street. Can such a play be reincarnated after such a successful movie? Well, yes, and no. Those aficionados of the movie cannot forget the performances of both Tandy and Freeman. We cannot forget the opening up of the play to movie scope, filling in the cracks of the bare-bones of a theatrical script. On the other hand, we can marvel at wonderful acting.
The creative team that leads a list of producers longer than most Broadway casts, has assembled theatre royalty. Boyd Gaines (of “Gypsy” and “She Loves Me”) plays Miss Daisy’s son, and (surprise!) in the play he is more evident than in the movie. And he is a southern gentleman with acting chops that are amazing. Then Miss Redgrave, who now plays an aristocratic southern Jewish lady (forgetting her pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel comments of the past) is a marvel. I saw my own 90-year-old aged mother on stage at the end of this play because of the ability and regalness of Ms. Redgrave. She is indeed Broadway royalty. I marvel at her ability to still perform, having lost both her daughter and her sister this past year.
I must single out the most superlative performance of this show: James Earl Jones. When I watch CNN, I hear him. When my grandson watches “The Lion King”, I hear him. I could name the many EMMY and TONY awards this actor has earned, but that only reinforces my opinion. When he is on stage, he is riveting. And he is the center of this play. He is an actor’s actor…a thespian of thespians.
The bare-boned useful set of John Lee Beatty and the direction of David Esbjornson are more exceptional elements found here.
So, bottom line: This is a masterpiece of American theatre, and it boasts a cast that would be knighted if this be England. Go to see “Driving Miss Daisy” and you truly will be moved emotionally.