Entertainment

Driving Miss Daisy, thru Sept. 22 at Gloucester Stage, is a tour-de-force

GLOUCESTER – Whether or not you see that blockbusting political history movie about U.S. Presidents and their black servants this fall, you must see Alfred Uhry?s “Driving Miss Daisy” at the Gloucester Stage Company – and you have until Sept. 22.A super-talented three-member cast makes this 75-minute play a tour-de-force with the heart of the material always solidly up front – and in a theater like GSC the audience can feel the characters? loneliness and their struggles.Premiering in 1987, Uhry takes us at breakneck speed through 25 years (1948-1973) in the lives of three Atlanta residents: businessman Boolie Werthan, his mother Miss Daisy and her chauffeur Hoke Coleburn. Miss Daisy rejects the idea of a chauffeur, then accepts Hoke as a servant and potential thief, and finally realizes that he is a friend, as history ticks on in the background.?The play zeroes in on where responsibility truly lies,” actress Lindsay Crouse said after a recent performance. “It?s about two people struggling to discover who they really are.”?We?ve got to have a dignity about the way we treat each other,” her co-star Johnny Lee Davenport said.Director Benny Sato Ambush said the play is about “one person?s inner revolution: the struggle to see the other differently.” Ambush has the patience to let each actor find the heart of the material.Robert Pemberton?s Boolie is written as a foil for Hoke and Miss Daisy, to test each one as they take steps in their lives. Pemberton?s high point is the way he vents after listening to Miss Daisy rant about the way black people steal – and seeing her proven wrong. But as a dramatist?s understated version of a straight man Pemberton lets us sense the character?s determination where his mother is concerned – and his acceptance of Hoke as an equal when they renegotiate the chauffeur?s salary.Johnny Lee Davenport?s Hoke plays a typical 1948 Southern Negro to the hilt as the play begins, then gradually lets his humanity emerge as he cajoles Miss Daisy, then stands up to her and finally refuses to let her drift away.Crouse gives her best GSC performance in years, channeling her inner Bette Davis as she offsets Miss Daisy?s physical aging with the character?s gritty determination and her need to open up to a new way of looking at people. In a play in which each character has a subtext, hers is the strongest – and she shares it with us powerfully.

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