Monday, November 11, 2013

Dukesbay Productions’ Driving Miss Daisy

L-R: Boolie (Robert Geller), Daisy (Syra Beth Puett) and Hoke (Malcolm J. West), photo by Jason Ganwich
There’s a new theater in town, and it has kicked off its season with it’s one and only play for 2013:
Alfred Uhry’s  Driving Miss Daisy.

Dukesbay Productions was founded in 2011 by Tacoma theatre artists Randy Clark and Aya Hashiguchi Clark. Popular personalities on the South Sound theater scene, the Clarks already have a long and lustrous history. Randy has been active in the Tacoma theatre scene as an actor and director since the 1970s. His work has been seen at Lakewood Playhouse, Tacoma Little Theatre and Theatre NW. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Tacoma Little Theatre. Aya has appeared at several Seattle/Tacoma theaters, including ReAct Theatre, SIS Productions, Renton Civic Theatre, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, Tacoma Little Theatre and Lakewood Playhouse, and served as producer for eight plays and a Playwrights Festival for Burien Little Theatre.

They built their new theater in the historic Merlino Art Center in Tacoma, home to The Grand Cinema, The Tacoma City Ballet and Corina Bakery. It is a lovely performance space with a well-designed seating arrangement. There is not a bad seat in the house.

Driving Miss Daisy was written by Uhry in 1987 as a tribute to his Atlanta-based family.  It won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Outer Critics Circle Award.  The film adaptation starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy won four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Screenplay.

The story begins in 1948. Miss Daisy (Syra Beth Puett) has wrecked her car and her son, Boolie (Robert Geller) believes she is not a safe driver any more. He hires an elderly black man, Hoke (Malcolm J. West) to be her chauffer. Daisy is a 72-year-old widow, a fiercely independent Jewish woman. At first she is disdainful and refuses to let Hoke drive her anywhere, but gradually he wins over, and as they age — she lives to be almost 100 — he becomes her best and only friend.

It is a sweet play about their developing friendship and mutual dependence played out against the backdrop of the civil rights movement in Atlanta, Georgia, presented as a series of short vignettes with a lovely set designed by David Wehmhoefer with effective lighting, also by Wehmhoefer and sound effects by Nic Olson.

While the struggle for civil rights in the South is a constant element in this play it is kept secondary to the developing relationships between Daisy, her son and her chauffer.  Similarly, class and religious differences play a role but are subsumed by the personal.

Puett, who was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and grew up in the Deep South seems born to play this role, and she is outstanding. Her Southern accent is natural and believable; she ages gracefully, and displays a range of emotions that are captivating.

West is solid as a rock as Hoke. He nails the speech patterns and demeanor of a proud and sensitive man who works as a domestic servant in the South during those years. Geller also nails the speech patterns, accent and gestures.

I need to inject a personal note here. Like Puett, I was born and grew up in the Deep South. I knew people just like Daisy and Hoke and Boolie, and these three actors made me feel like I had been transported back home and back in time.

Congratulations to the cast and crew; outstanding director, Julie Halpin; and producers Randy and Aya Hashiguchi Clark.

Driving Miss Daisy is a short play, running about 90 minutes with no intermission.

WHERE: The Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Building, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10
WHEN: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 23
TICKETS: $15, includes coffee and an assortment of baked goods

For reservations:
By phone (253) 267-0869
By email:
Reservations are recommended. Tickets payable at the door by cash, WA State check or credit/debit card.

Also see Michael Dresdner's review.

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