If you haven’t ever seen Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Driving Miss Daisy (now onstage at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe), well, honestly, where have you been?
This time-spanning, three-character comedy-drama has been around since 1987, presented numerous times locally, and, of course, snagged the Academy Award for Best Picture after it was filmed in 1989. So the odds are good you’ve seen it at least once.
But, fortunately, Driving Miss Daisy is a show that you don’t mind being familiar with. Its story of a Southern Jewish woman, her black chauffeur, and the quarter century of American history they share from 1948-1973 is presented with such a skilled mixture of smiles, laughter and tears that it works just about every time.
Daisy (Carolyn Michel) is feisty, independent and stubborn, so the decision of her son, Boolie (Kraig Swartz), to hire a driver for her is, naturally, one she fights. It takes a man of some subtlety and skill (Hoke, played by Taurean Blacque) to very gradually work his way into her trust and, ultimately, affection.
Driving Miss Daisy is told simply enough, as it should be, with a set divided into three sections: Daisy’s home, Boolie’s office, and the two moving chairs in the center that represent the car where so much takes place over the years. Great changes are occurring during those decades, especially in the South, and we see them as reflected through the characters’ eyes, but the focus always remains intimate in nature.
Howard Millman has directed his cast with understanding and warmth, and he’s rewarded with three performances that should linger. That’s right, three, because here the role of Boolie, which can sometimes come across as merely supporting, is, thanks to Swartz, definitely a major part of the threesome. His Boolie isn’t a buffoon, and it’s obvious from the start that he genuinely cares for his difficult mother. Swartz has good comic timing, too.
Blacque and Michel are also good comic foils for each other in the show’s early scenes, as they take their first gingerly steps toward a working relationship. But their interactions are equally believable when confronted by more serious events, and neither Uhry nor the cast members allow things to get sloppy or overly sentimental. It’s good to see Blacque here again (he made his WBTT debut in a previous season in The Whipping Man), and with him, Michel does some of the best work she’s had a chance to do in recent years. All in all, Driving Miss Daisy is the perfect choice to end the season.
The show continues through May 28; for tickets call 366-1505 or go to westcoastblacktheatre.org.