Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Theater Review: Driving Miss Daisy -- Music Theatre of CT

Rebecca Hoodwin and Lorenzo Scott. Photo: Joe Landry

Driving Miss Daisy
Music Theatre of Connecticut
Through Feb. 22

What's It All About?
Only one of the best plays ever! This thoughtful character study and comment on race relations through the years seen through the lends on an unlikely friendship won playwright Alfred Uhry a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 and an Academy Award for the brilliant screenplay adapting it for the big screen in 1990. Rebecca Hoodwin plays Miss Daisy Werthen, an elderly southern, Jewish woman, who takes offense when her son, Boolie (Mike Boland) hires her a chauffeur. She doesn't want Hoke Coleburn (Lorenzo Scott) in her house or driving her around Atlanta, where her friends might get the idea she is putting on airs. 

Patient and determined, Hoke finally gets her to ride with him (the car is represented by benches and a steering wheel taking up on corner of the minimal set designed by David Heuvelman) and a friendship ensues over the years from 1948-1973. Racial, class and other tensions are tested, not only by the friendship, but in society in general.

What Are the Highlights?
The play is one of my favorites and when it's done right, it will make you cry (it did.) Hoodwin gives a solid performance as the frail woman who can be overbearing and unreasonable. She ages noticeably through the years. Countering nicely is Boland as the tough business man with a soft heart.

Sound effects and music to transition scenes are excellent. The incidental music was composed by Robert Waldman (and licensed from Dramatists with the script) and is the music used in the original production, according to Joe Landry, director of marketing and PR for MTC. The sound effects were added by Kevin Connors and the creative team, he said. Well done!

This production was a welcome revisit to the play for me after a disastrous revival on Broadway a few years ago, which proved that even excellent plays can get horrible productions. So, if you never have seen this gem of a play, or if that James Earl Jones/Vanessa Redgrave revival was your first experience, run over the the Music Theatre of Connecticut box office and see this one!

What Are the Lowlights?
The pace is too brisk. This is the type of play that should have the feel of a slow, southern morning, enjoyed while sipping iced tea, slowly rocking in a chair on the porch and listening to the buzz of insects in air so hot it's barely moved by weak breezes. . .

Some of the dialogue needs a few seconds of silence following it for the impact to sink in. Scott gives us a Hoke who is affable, but who seems very youthful and robust. He needs to be more laid back for us to understand the submissive demeanor he has had to assume to get along as an African American during those racially challenging times in the south. We also need to see the difference in his attitude when he occasionally stands up to Miss Daisy. 

Director Kevin Connors also uses some odd blocking at times which has characters talking off into space instead of to each other.

More information:
Miss Daisy drives by through Feb. 22 at Music Theatre of Connecticut's new home, The Melissa and Doug Theatre, 509 Westport Ave.,  Norwalk, Performances are Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets: Tickets: $30-$50 ($5 off for seniors/students based on availability): 203-454-3883;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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