A bumpy ride toward racial equality. `Driving Miss Daisy,' in new touring production, tracks South's changing attitudes
Washington — Driving Miss Daisy Touring production of the 1988 Pulitzer-winning play by Alfred Uhry. Stars Julie Harris, Brock Peters, and Stephen Root. Directed by Ron Lagomarsino. Julie Harris's ``The Lark'' gave us a winged force soaring above the heads of her men as Ste. Joan in the Jean Anouilh play adapted by Lillian Hellman. She gave us poet Emily Dickenson, the cryptic romanticist with the marmalade sense of humor, in ``The Belle of Amherst,'' by William Luce. She gave us the sensitive 12-year-old tomboy, Frankie Adams, searching for ``the we of me'' in both the play and film version of Carson McCullers's ``The Member of the Wedding.''
And now she has given us the ultimate back seat driver, Daisy Werthan. ``Driving Miss Daisy,'' the 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner now on stage at Kennedy Center, is an ideal vehicle for the talents of Julie Harris and co-star Brock Peters as Miss Daisy's long-suffering chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn. 25-year relationship
Alfred Uhry's play rolls through 25 years, from 1948 to 1973, in Atlanta, as it brings to life the gradual change in Southern race relations, the diminishing of bias against blacks and Jews as seen through its characters' eyes.
Their relationship begins in 1948, when the elderly Miss Daisy, the tart-tongued matriarch of a Jewish family, finds herself uninsurable after smashing up her Packard. Her businessman son, Boolie (Stephen Root), insists on hiring a black chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn, to drive her to the Piggly Wiggly for groceries.
After several days in a snit about this, she gives in to being driven but treats Hoke with suspicion and condescension: ``I don't need you; I don't like you; and I don't like your saying I'm rich,'' she snaps at him, as Miss Daisy's son says with a sigh, defending her probity, ``She's all there; she's too much there.'' Hoke at first returns her demeaning behavior with unflappable amiability.
But a genuine friendship starts reluctantly when Miss Daisy discovers Hoke can't read and begins teaching him. It isn't a friendship of equals until Hoke, driving Miss Daisy to a funeral in Mobile, Ala., reminds her with great dignity that he's a 72-year-old grown man, who can leave her stranded if she's childish enough to forbid his making a restroom stop.
By the time the play ends, Hoke and Miss Daisy have spanned not only all those years together on the road but also decades of devoted, if ornery, friendship. Harris pungent and funny
Julie Harris, looking quaint as an antimacassar in her lavender dimity dress with a lace collar, packs a wallop as Miss Daisy. Pungent, peppery, willful, and wonderfully funny, Harris makes the role her own right through the final poignant moments. Brock Peters, a powerful actor, gives us a Hoke who's bright, sassy, and jocular on the surface but full of great tenderness and strength underneath. Mr. Root as Boolie is a winning foil for both of them. Directed with warmth, flair
Mr. Uhry's superb play has been directed with warmth and flair by Ron Lagomarsino, who never lets it flag for the hour-and-a-half ``Miss Daisy'' runs, without intermission. He's aided by Thomas Lynch's minimal but effective sets and Michael Krass's apt costumes.
After its run ends here Nov. 12, ``Driving Miss Daisy'' will make a 12-city tour, which includes Boston (Nov. 15); Stamford, Conn.; Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, and West Palm Beach, Fla.; Lexington, Ky.; Dallas; Milwaukee; San Francisco; Seattle; and Los Angeles. The tour ends next June 25.