Review by E. Lisa Moses
Alfred Uhry’s 1987 magnum opus, Driving Miss Daisy, never runs out of gas. At the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, actor Michael Learned (famous for playing “Olivia Walton”) alternately grinds the gears and jump-starts the cantankerous widow, Miss Daisy. At age 72, Daisy is forced by her son Boolie, played by Darren Keay, to use a chauffeur after she wipes out her Chrysler in spectacular demolition-derby style.
Directed by David Hogan, this one-act play set in Atlanta, Georgia in the mid-1990s tracks a 20-year friendship between the white Jewish (but “not rich”) Daisy and Neville Edwards’s steadfast black chauffeur Hoke Colburn. Photo by Diane ODell, of Ms. Learned & Neville Edwards
It shatters the conventions of the day and addresses familiar issues from ageism to racism. It also recalls the classy Cadillacs and Packards and Hudson Commodores of the era. Covering almost a quarter century in 90 minutes is a challenge to which not only the actors, but also the directors, set designers and technicians rise admirably.
In a convincing performance, Learned morphs her character from a fiercely independent retired teacher into a walker-assisted nonagenarian who can still breathe brimstone at the mere mention of her daughter-in-law. Edwards artfully transforms the tall, dignified Hoke into a stooped yet still elegant elderly man. And over the years, Keay’s Boolie ably supports both characters from his corporate position in the “real” world.
With a backdrop of fretwork and antiques, the set design evokes the Old South and that it represents. The music, lighting and sound effects do a commendable job of moving the play along through many disparate scenes. And the 400-seat theatre in Petrolia’s historic Victoria Hall is a good fit for such a period piece.
Driving Miss Daisy is playing at the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 24. Learned will remain in town for a speaking engagement July 27, 28 and 29 entitled “Miss Michael: In conversation with Michael Learned.” The event will provide an inside look at the life and career of the four-time Emmy Award-winning actress, Broadway star and television icon. From raising her children in Stratford, Ontario to moving to Hollywood to become “Olivia Walton,” she will share anecdotes of her days on The Waltons using footage and out-takes, answer questions and recount humorous and heartbreaking personal stories.