ReAct Theatre's 'Driving Miss Daisy' returns to the play's nuanced roots
A review of Alfred Uhry's "Driving Miss Daisy" — true to the original, not the film version, which Uhry also wrote — staged by ReAct Theatre at Hugo House in Seattle through Aug. 25, 2012.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Driving Miss Daisy'By Alfred Uhry. Through Aug. 25, a ReAct Theatre production at Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., Seattle; $9-$15
(206-364-3283 or reacttheatre.org).
There's a scene in the Oscar-winning film version of Alfred Uhry's "Driving Miss Daisy" in which the character of Hoke Colburn — an aging, African-American chauffeur for Daisy Werthan, a white Atlanta widow — is harassed by racist white cops. Uhry wrote that scene, having adapted his own Pulitzer Prize-winning, 1987 Off-Broadway drama for the screen.
But no such instance exists in his original one-act. As seen in ReAct Theatre's graceful, funny and sometimes haunting new production of "Driving Miss Daisy," it's easy to see why it would be superfluous. The play's deceptively simple structure, a series of moments emblematic of an evolving, decades-long relationship between Hoke (Ekello Harrid Jr.) and Daisy (Walayn Sharples) are snapshots of intertwined lives and the subtle, paradoxical influence of racism on that entwinement.
This is not a typical story about prejudice in America, nor is it an uplifting tale of two people transcending racial barriers. It's a universal portrait of basic human need in the face of ordinary losses (Hoke has also buried a spouse) and looming mortality. But within that portrait are ever-shifting nuances of an unexpected, and racially loaded, intimacy. Director David Hsieh and his cast of three (Gordon Hendrickson plays Daisy's affable son, Boolie) explore those nuances with appealing delicacy, sass and layered insight. It's remarkable how much of Uhry's dialogue (often little more than Daisy hectoring Hoke, and Hoke pushing back) never really says what is obviously in anyone's heart. But Hsieh, Harrid, Sharples and Hendrickson dig deep into tone and subtext and come up with some fine experiences.
Penetrating dialogue isn't necessary in a scene where Daisy, after forbidding an indignant Hoke from leaving her on a dark road, faces primal fear when he vanishes into the night to relieve himself. Nor is it necessary to articulate Daisy's clumsy inability to reconcile her white liberalism with her unwillingness to take Hoke to see Martin Luther King Jr.
ReAct makes all this and much more a rich tapestry of complex, contradictory ties that bind us, flaws and all.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org