FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 8, 2018) -- The Lee Playhouse production of Alfred Uhry’s beloved drama “Driving Miss Daisy” made its debut Friday, coming across like the Sunday drive to grandma’s house – a leisurely ride with some nice views, occasional surprises and an overall happy feeling.
It has been over 30 years since the first staging of “Driving Miss Daisy.” Thanks to the popularity of the Oscar-winning film, most audiences are familiar with the story of its main character, a quarrelsome widow whose unfortunate automobile accident forces her to accept being chauffeured around Atlanta by Hoke Coleburn.
The portrayed time period of 1948-1973 were years that brought turbulent change to America as the nation reluctantly embraced the civil rights movement and desegregation. The politics of this Pulitzer Prize-winning production were never particularly radical. Let’s face it, “I got to go make water, Miss Daisy” is no revolutionary manifesto.
When held up to the events and personalities of the subsequent three decades (Rodney King, America’s first African-American president and the Black Lives Matter movement, for instance) the play’s soft-pedaled portrayal of race relations seems even more quaint. Nonetheless, it offers audiences a powerful and poignant story of two people from different worlds discovering friendship in a place they least expected. From squabbling over the proper route to the Piggly Wiggly to the searing realization that hatred is no respecter of color or social class, the two slowly develop a respect and fondness for one another.
Director Joy Williams once again pulls double duty in this production, taking on the title role as well as helming the cast, much as she did last season in the Playhouse presentation of “Broadway Bound.” Those who remember the master class in acting she delivered then already know the powerful punch she can deliver. Her Daisy is irritable, petulant and insecure. Yet it’s her character’s vulnerability that ultimately wins the audience’s sympathy.
Veteran actor Jim Bynum makes his debut at the Playhouse in the role of Hoke. Some may remember him from local commercials pitching The Grocery Store and Rack N Sack, but those days are quickly forgotten as he inhabits the persona of the canny, patient-yet-practical chauffeur. The yang to Daisy’s yin, Bynum’s Hoke is the good-humored anchor who balances out his shrill employer.
Playhouse veteran Dale Blake rounds out the cast, doing a fine job in the nearly thankless role of Daisy’s son, Boolie.
With only three characters, the most minimal of sets and 28 quirky vignettes that seem more like snapshots than conventional scenes, Daisy starts off as a bit of a bumpy ride. Perhaps it is that exact simplicity that allows the performances to shine. The chemistry between the two lead actors drives this production, focusing their energy into an intimate - yet universal - story of two people struggling to retain their dignity and independence as they age into the last years of their lives.
“Driving Miss Daisy” continues at the Lee Theater Feb. 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 8 p.m.; and Feb. 11 and 18 at 3 p.m. All performances are open to the public.
Tickets are $13 for adults; $7 for youth 16 and under; and $5 for military E1 - E4. Group rates are available. For more information, call (804) 734-6629.