by Alfred Uhry
Directed by David Esbjornson
Starring Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones
and Boyd Gaines
John Golden Theatre
Through January 29, 2011 Only
Official Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

There are certain simple plays that are almost foolproof (nothing is entirely foolproof) that when delivered with competence and respect cannot fail to hit their mark—and that when delivered with virtuoso artistry are simply heaven. And one such is Driving Miss Daisy, the 1987 play by Alfred Uhry. Due to the phenomenal success of the film version, there aren’t many who don’t know the general outline of the story, so briefly: When the play starts grown son Boolie Wortham is arguing with his feisty, stubborn 72 year old mother Daisy that she cannot drive anymore, not after her lasst accident that totaled her last car. Insurance is providing a new one a Boolie insists upon providing a chauffer. That chauffer will turn out to be Hoke Colburn an easy, philosophical, secretly illiterate black man in his late 50s with experience driving a retired judge. Though the Werthams are well-to-do, they are also very much a minority in the Georgia of 1948: they’re Jews. The play subsequently traces the growing bond between the three—most profoundly between Hoke and Daisy—in short scenes that skip through the intervening decades until 1972. And thus is told one of the greatest platonic love stories of all time.

Making its Broadway debut, Driving Miss Daisy is graced here with a production directed by David Esbjornson, only mildly more high tech than the original (he makes use of a turntable and an actual driving wheel unit, so the “car” and its operation isn’t entirely pantomimed); and for its stars, Vanessa Redgrave as Daisy, combining tough old bird, grande dame and vulnerable senior beautifully; James Earl Jones, whose Hoke is an unpretentious realist with a booming laugh and an endearing honesty; and Boyd Gaines, a (reportedly) good guy actor in an unusually rich good guy role. One could go on writing and trying to search for encomiums, but it seems silly to bother…for just as the play’s simple eloquence makes a universal connection that needs no analysis to understand, the mere list of names involved with current revival at the Golden Theatre. All the stars are in alignment here (pun intended) and for this Driving Miss Daisy you’ll very much want to take the ride…and cherish the memories…

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