Strong Performances Make Daisy a Smooth Ride

daisyMixed Magic Theatre’s production of Driving Miss Daisy is powered by some outstanding performances and smooth direction by Ricardo Pitts-Wiley.

The setting is Atlanta, Georgia, in the 1940s. An elderly Jewish widow named Daisy Werthan (Melanie Stone) crashes her car, which prompts her son Boolie to hire a chauffeur to drive his mother around.  Boolie hires Hoke Colburn (Pitts-Wiley), an African-American, for the job.

Driving Miss Daisy is a sweet story set amid the deep South’s racial injustice. Even though the characters acknowledge segregation and anti-semitism, playwright Alfred Uhry focuses on the relationship between Daisy and Hoke, which undergoes a transformation as time goes on. Daisy is initially wary of her new employee and gives Hoke a tough time. She criticizes his driving abilities and insists on going into the grocery store on her own.

One day, Daisy blows her top when she discovers a can of food missing from the kitchen cabinet and suspects Hoke of stealing. Hoke does confess to taking the food, but swiftly apologizes to Daisy, which leads her to reconsider the way she has been treating him. They develop a bond of friendship that weathers the tumultuous civil rights battles of the 1960s.

The closing scene is likely to leave you misty-eyed, so keep some tissues handy.

A play like this lives or dies based on the chemistry between the two leads. Fortunately Stone and Pitts-Wiley don’t disappoint. As Hoke, Pitts-Wiley is immensely charming and dignified. At one point, he reminds Daisy that although he is her employee, he is also a human being with rights. Stone is skilled at bringing the uptight and somewhat judgmental Daisy to life. This is a woman who is set in her ways, but slowly opens her mind to what’s going on in the world. Burr Harrison is a solid presence as Boolie, who is often frustrated by Daisy’s testy personality.

Driving Miss Daisy isn’t a great play – it prefers sentimentality over a hard-edged look at prejudice – but it is a solidly entertaining one.

Driving Miss Daisy runs through December 20 at Mixed Magic Theatre, 560 Mineral Spring Ave, Pawtucket. For tickets, call 401-305-7333 or via e-mail at mixedmagictheatre@gmail.com.

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