Updated: Mar 20, 2019
★★★★☆ - Delicious
While working as Assitant Director to Tony Award winner Zakes Mokae on a production of Master Harold … and the Boys, he stated, “This play, like any that strikes an emotional chord, is about relationships.”
Alfred Urhy’s iconic play, Driving Miss Daisy, addresses the acceptance of aging, and changes in the world around us. But it’s still about relationships—specifically between Hoke Colburn (Mervin Kenneth Alexander, Jr.) and Daisy Werthan (Joan Mullaney), the woman he’s hired to chauffeur after she’s demolished a new Packard, a garage, and a shed.
For Broadway in the Hood, director Torrey Russell deftly brought the script to life on a functional, yet beautifully designed and dressed set by Shannon Bradley. Russell dug deep into character, and it shows.
Robert Michela, making his stage debut in the role of Boolie Werthan, does a credible job. Relaxed and in control, his actions spoke as loud as his words as he slyly forced his will upon his mother, yet acquiesced to some demands. The bond is wrought with potholes and pitfalls, both expected and unexpected. The relationship with Hoke developed nicely from employer to friend, and Michela made the transition in smooth steps.
From the moment he walked on stage, Alexander immediately engaged. His Hoke was endearing without being ingratiating, without stooping to levels of servitude; every movement, pause, and moment true and believable. In the graveyard, as Hoke struggled with the idea of needing to read, Alexander brought deep levels of emotion with every fiber of his being. The embarrassment, the trepidation of admitting to Miss Daisy that he’s unable to read was sheer magic. It’s the key element which marks the moment of change in relationship of employer and employee to one of friendship, and Alexander played it with perfect grace and finesse.
Mullaney didn’t fare as well. Indignation and anger at loss of control over her life, embarrassment at needing help, and denial all came across the same; vocal intonation and body language remained constant. She recovered somewhat in the cemetery, but it didn’t happen gradually, organically, and didn’t deepen. In life our actions often contradict our words. When Miss Daisy gets frightened because Hoke has made a wrong turn on a long trip into Alabama, the same earlier tonality broke to the forefront. Rather than reaching out to Hoke for comfort, when physical contradiction to dialogue would’ve portrayed the deepened relationship, Mullaney dabbed at her eyes and clutched her chest.
The play spans more than 20 years. Miss Daisy goes from age 72 into her early 90s. Unfortunately, neither Mullaney’s actions nor voice aged. In fright, anxious during a moment of descending senility, she floundered about like a madwoman, leaped from a chair as easily as the 72-year-old. In the nursing home, her voice carried no hint of quavering, no whisper of disuse.
Alexander’s Hoke slowly aged in physicality as the play progressed. He rubbed at aching knees, a ramrod-straight back first bent then became stooped, shaking hands struggled with a cane and then became full-on tremors. Vocal tones took on the huskiness and rasp of old age.
In a nice touch, Boolie walked on arthritic, aging legs, using a cane made from a golf club.
It’s often the smallest details which provide realism. The set, in a mixture of representational and realistic, was beautifully done. Flats adorned with curtains and a large photo of a young Miss Daisy flanked center stage, while the car was a steering wheel and column (complete with ignition switch, gear shift, and turn indicator), and wooden boxes.
As the saying goes, if it’s on the stage, it better be used, and used properly. It’s easy to assume an audience won’t notice, but expecting them to imagine things without being consistent can jar those who catch such details. Obvious was the lack of consistency in the miming of the car doors. The actors would open but not close them; or vice versa. At one point, Hoke helps Miss Daisy from the back seat and she proceeds to walk through the door. It’s tantamount to walking through walls when a set uses only door frames. Russell needed to have eyes on those kinds of things, even if they weren’t his own.
Overall, the show was nicely done, and everyone should eagerly look forward to upcoming productions.
What: Driving Miss Daisy
Where: Smith Center, Troesch Studio
Grade: **** (Delicious)
Producer: Broadway in the Hood; Director: Torrey Russell; Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Ranique Dawson; Scenic Design: Shannon Bradley; Costume Design/Dresser: Cindie Law; Technical Director/Assistant Stage Manager: Chris Eli Jamal; Prop Master: Diedre Thompson