I attended another Front Row Center production last night, this time featuring veteran thespians Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones, and Boyd Gaines, a 4-time Tony winner playing Daisy’s son Boolie in Driving Miss Daisy. Daisy is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Alfred Uhry and was also a movie nominated for 9 Oscars, winning 4, and receiving 3 Golden Globes. This wasn’t a live broadcast but a blue-ray recording from the Australian tour of the play and part of the Broadway Near You series.
The set was cleverly organized, making excellent use of the stage with simple props sliding in and out on sections of the stage representing Daisy’s house to the left with a winding staircase going offstage, her son’s office in the middle, and the car on a revolving circular section of the right hand stage. The car consisted of a back bench seat and a single front seat with a wheel propped up in front. Sometimes a 2nd seat was added beside the driver’s seat. An easy chair, a side table, a wall phone, and a fireplace created Miss Daisy’s living room — very simple, very effective.
The three characters entered the stage simultaneously at the start, from the wings and the back, into their respective settings. Hoke (the chauffeur played by Jones) sits on the back seat of the car which appears to be part of what will be Boolie’s office in the second scene and is left there in the dark as Miss Daisy and Boolie kick things off in her living room. The upshot is that Daisy, at age 72, shouldn’t be driving any longer as attested to by the destroyed Packard, neighbouring garage and shed that apparently resulted from the gears being shifted into reverse instead of forward.
From the beginning humour of the defiant, wealthy, Jewess who refuses to allow the new black chauffeur to drive her anywhere, to the more serious and sinister undertones of the changing times of the 60s, the growing friendship and mutual dependency of Daisy & Hoke is played with sensitivity and subtlety. After Daisy’s temple is bombed, she realizes that she, like Hoke, is a victim of prejudice.
Screen changes on the backdrop center stage are high tech, allowing the transitions to be completed with few, if any, props, and include a film-clip of a Martin Luther King rally and signs proclaiming KKK country as Daisy & Hoke drive to a family event in Alabama.
Lansbury (88) plays every stage of the 25-year relationship with Hoke convincingly up to and including the tender scene at the end where, now 97, she is confined to a wheel chair in a nursing home and needs Hoke to feed her the Thanksgiving pie. As the scene comes to an end, you’re almost surprised when she stands out of the wheel chair to take the final bow.
This is such an excellent show. The play, no question, deals with hard issues in a compelling manner and the acting is superb. At less than 1/4 the cost of a ticket to an actual Broadway production in a theatre, you have the best seat in the house and it’s amazing value for the money. If you get a chance to go to one or more of the Front Row Center shows you should seize the opportunity. Driving Miss Daisy will be shown one more time, June 14th, at 500 Cineplex theatres. Check for one near you.