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Garner Towne Players pulls off an outstanding - if cramped - Driving Miss Daisy

By Robert W. McDowell


The Towne Players of Garner opened its second season with a splendid production of Driving Miss Daisy. Set in the Deep South from 1948 to 1973, Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize winning Off-Broadway play affectionately chronicles the unlikely 25-year friendship between a wealthy but crotchety 72-year-old Jewish widow and her proud but soft-spoken African-American driver.

Frances Stanley and Holmes Morrison star as prickly former schoolteacher Daisy Wertham and the ever-patient Hoke Coleburn, the driver whom her son, Boolie, hires when it is no longer safe for Miss Daisy to drive herself.

Stanley, who provided comic relief as the curmudgeonly Ouiser Boudreaux in The Towne Players' superb May production of Robert Harling's Steel Magnolieas, beautifully captures the paradox of Daisy Wertham: beneath that gruff and prickly exterior, there beats a warm and loving heart, with a deep and genuine concern for the less fortunate. One minute, Miss Daisy may be fussing about her (African-American) help pilfering her pantries; the next minute, she is extolling the virtues the virtues of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a fellow resident of Atlanta whose civil rights crusade Miss Daisy strongly supported.

Frances Stanley convincingly captures the many different facets of Miss Daisy's complicated personality, and Holmes Morrison provides the perfect foil as Hoke Coleburn. Morrison's Hoke is a near-saintly man with enormous dignity in an era when African-American men were still called "boy" by many of the white majority. When amply provoked, Hoke stands up to Miss Daisy, in her most narrow-minded moments, and smoothly maneuvers her son, Boolie, into granting him a sizable raise by casually mentioned an offer of employment that he received from one of Miss Daisy's Alabaae relatives.

Tim Upchurch is terrific as Boolie Wertham, a charming conservative, but progressive-minded, businessman whose heart is in the right place, but who balks at publicly aligning himself with some of his mother's more liberal causes. Because Miss Daisy despises Boolie's (never seen) wife as a social climber, more concerned with impressing her Christian neighbors than with doing the right thing, there is always some tension between mother and son. Boolie defuses these potentially explosive moments with well-timed jokes, and he connives with Hoke to make sure that his mother always gets the best of care - even when she doesn't want it.

With strong support from assistant director Rob Smith and her husband, technical director Scott Honeycutt, Towne Players co-founder and artistic director Beth Honeycutt did another outstanding job in staging Drive Miss Daisy on the cramped stage of Garner Historic Auditorium. Honeycutt again demonstrated the considerable directorial imagination and resourcefulness that, production by production, have established The Towne Players of Garner as one of the area's leading community theaters.

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