STANLEY, MORRISON, AND UPCHURCH SHINE IN SECOND “DRIVING MISS DAISY” ENCORE

By Robert W. McDowell

 

The Towne Players of Garner’s second and last encore presentation of DRIVING MISS DAISY, presented tonight and twice on Saturday at North Garner Magnet Middle School, is indeed a show to remember. Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt stages playwright Alfred Uhry’s heart-tugging 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning Off-Broadway drama with a sure hand and lots of imagination and special insight; and Frances Stanley (Miss Daisy), Holmes Morrison (Hoke), and Tim Upchurch (Boolie) give incandescent performances, having polished and broadened and deepened their portrayals in each successive production. Last night’s unusually large and enthusiastic opening-night audience gave this energetic encore a well-deserved standing ovation.

Not only was the show better in just about every way; but the plush, cushioned seats and well-spaced rows in the auditorium of North Garner Magnet Middle School were an unexpected treat after the uncomfortable wooden seats and cramped rows of The Garner Historic Auditorium.

In reprising her title role as wealthy Jewish widow Daisy Werthan, a tough old biddy who squawks loudly whenever anyone suggests that she is well-to-do enough to end her penny-pinching ways, Frances Stanley is a true delight. Miss Daisy is testy on the surface, but tender-hearted underneath her temperamental exterior — a real “doodle,” as her son Boolie calls her.

A retired Atlanta school teacher who ages from 72 to 97 in a series of scenes that start in 1948 and end in 1973, Miss Daisy is fiercely independent and deeply resentful when her son Boolie, alarmed by a series of automobile wrecks and near-misses, confiscates her car keys and turns them over to an African-American chauffeur. Despite frequent brushes with anti-Semitism (the story begins in 1948, just 33 years after a Georgia mob lynched Jewish pencil-factory proprietor Leo Frank for the murder in Atlanta of little Mary Phagan), Daisy Werthan has her own stereotypes about “colored people” being lazy and larcenous. These are stereotypes that her soft-spoken but spunky driver, Hoke Colburn, thoroughly explodes.

In his eloquent portrayal of Hoke, Holmes Morrison truly captures the character’s essence — his innate goodness and nobility when confronted with racism in its rankest forms. Although he occasionally speaks a bit too softly to be heard on the very back row, Morrison is in every other way the perfect Hoke, the epitome of a Southern gentleman at a time when many of his fellow residents of Atlanta could not see past his skin color.

While Holmes Morrison and Frances Stanley get the lion’s share of the spotlight, Tim Upchurch steals the show with his finely nuanced comic characterization of Atlanta businessman Boolie Werthan, who must humor both his difficult and headstrong mother and his equally difficult and headstrong wife. Daisy Werthan is determined to live life on her own terms; Boolie’s wife Florine is hell-bent on crashing the upper — and no less anti-Semitic — levels of Atlanta society, even if it means hobnobbing with Episcopalians!

Technical director Scott Honeycutt has expertly employed an armchair, a lamp, and a screen; a couple of stools; and a desk and two chairs to suggest the show’s three locations — the interior of Miss Daisy’s house, the inside of her car, and Boolie’s office — and director Beth Honeycutt has not only found fresh new ways to stage this familiar play, but she has gotten her three-character cast to dig deeper into their roles. The result is a must-see drama, superior to the original production and the first encore presentation — which were highlights of the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 Triangle theater seasons, respectively.

Don’t miss DRIVING MISS DAISY. Watching it in the comfy, air-conditioned confines of North Garner Magnet Middle School, just a few blocks from The Garner Historic Auditorium, dramatically enhances the audience’s viewing pleasure.