Friday, May 3, 2019

Hoke Coleburn drives Miss Daisy

Photo from left: Chris Biggs as Boolie Werthan, Meigie Mabry as Miss Daisy, Jordan Hall as Hoke Coleburn, photo by Scott Ellgen

An epic tale of the South
by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 2, 2019

from left: Chris Biggs as Boolie Werthan, Meigie Mabry as Miss Daisy and Jordan Hall as Hoke Coleburn
Now playing at Olympia Little Theatre is the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry.
Recent conflagrations over the treatment of race relations on stage and screen in BlacKkKlansman and The Green Book cast doubts on the treatment of race in the Oscar-winning film version of Driving Miss Daisy, and by extension on the play. Never-the-less, the play is touching and funny and seems true to life. The three-person cast in Olympia Little Theatre’s is excellent, and the production moves quickly and smoothly despite some technical difficulties opening night that will hopefully be corrected for future productions (they could have used one or two more technical rehearsals). That and a tawdry set detracts terribly from an otherwise wonderful show. Miss Daisy’s home has cheap and ugly wallpaper not at all in keeping with what one might expect in the home of an aristocratic Southern Jewish lady, and there are moveable folding screens upon which other set locations such as a graveyard are badly painted and which are often moved about clumsily and unnecessarily.
Seventy-two-year-old Daisy Werthan (Meigie Mabry) is no longer able to drive safely, so her son Boolie (Chris Biggs) hires 60-year-old black man named Hoke (Jordan Hall) as her chauffeur. From the beginning, she fights against having some one chauffeur her. She is crusty, short-tempered, and has quite obviously spent her life in a safe little upper-class bubble and knows nothing about the kind of life Hoke lives. Hoke responds with a winning combination kindness, dignity and stubbornness, and Daisy and Hoke gradually learn to accept and even love one another. Hoke drives Daisy from 1948 to 1973. He was driving her to her synagogue when the 1958 bombing of Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple in Atlanta took place, and her drove her to a Martin Luther King, Jr. Nobel Prize recognition dinner in 1965.
The play handles race issues in a surprisingly gentle but understanding manner, with a plethora of humorous one-liners. One of the most telling and incisive scenes of racial strife is when Boolie decides not to go to the MLK recognition dinner because being seen there might adversely affect his business relations.
Mabry is absolutely believable as Miss Daisy. Her crisp wit, subtle facial expressions and slow and painful movements as she grows older are beautifully done. Biggs pushes his depiction of a proud Southern businessman almost to the edge of being stereotypical without going over that line. In the opening scene he directs one dramatic speech at the audience when it should have been directed at his mother, but that mistake doesn’t happen again.
Hall simply is Hoke in his every movement and expression, beautifully underplayed in every scene but in a few scenes not projecting well enough to be clearly understood. Also beautifully underplayed by all three cast members are the Southern accents. Credit the cast and first-time director Randall Graham for perfectly handling the accents.

Driving Miss Daisy
7:25 p.m. Thursday- Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through May 12
$11-$15, $2 student discount
Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia, (360) 786-9484,

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