Theatre Aquarius has given us something perfect: its production of Driving Miss Daisy. This three character play, written by Alfred Uhry, is a master class for actors. To nail it, you must be at the top of your game. Director Bradley Moss has assembled a stunning cast: Elizabeth Shepherd as Daisy, Walter Borden as Hoke and Peter Krantz as Boolie. The acting feels effortless.
The director keeps the production spare. Although we move from the forties to the seventies in Atlanta, Georgia, through dramatic periods of racial unrest, Moss avoids cluttering the set with projected news footage or headlines. Instead, he emphasizes the true drama of the play: the process of aging, trusting and letting go.
Miss Daisy is a privileged Jewish woman who operates inside a narrow band of propriety in the deeply prejudiced south. She is fierce about boundaries and privacy, standards that have allowed her protection and survival. A former school teacher who is now widowed, she lives with her housekeeper in a beautiful home. Her ambitious son, Boolie, has taken over the family business and has married a social climber who is clearly at odds with Daisy. For all her crankiness and humorous cutting edges, Daisy is quite alone. She goes to temple and manages her husband’s plot at the cemetery, but she is missing daily friendship and connection. When her son insists that she give up driving and employ an African America driver called Hoke, her world turns.
The cross paths of physical loss and character gain shape the deepest story in this tiny play. Shepherd is astounding as she gradually ages Daisy from her straight–backed seventies to her dementia–ridden nineties. In those two narrowing decades, she opens her mind to Martin Luther King and allows herself to accept that the burning of her temple and the lynching of black men are not in separate categories. She teaches Hoke how to read and eventually declares him to be her best friend.
Shepherd deftly maintains Daisy’s sharp tongue and badgering to the end, but eventually as a form of self spoofing. Nevertheless, she is haunted, convincingly, as she ages. And she is still disabled by propriety: most memorably when she cannot find the words to invite Hoke to join her at a Martin Luther King fund raiser.
Walter Borden gives a finely measured performance as Hoke, emphasizing his own social awkwardness at the beginning of the play and stepping into broader pools of dignity with each appearance. The driving scenes, performed on two chairs carried on and off the set by the actor, are little gems of bickering, When the duo gets lost on an out–of–state journey, Daisy cries, “You took the wrong turn!” Hoke replies, “Well you took it with me and you have the map.” Unlike Daisy, who is a little haunted and broken by change, watching her proud, childless son erase his Jewish past, Hoke is strengthened by his granddaughter‘s gains.
Peter Krantz is a perfect Boolie, climbing the ladder of success by throwing Christmas parties and favouring the Republicans. His dedication to his mother and his loyalty to Hoke is the underbelly of his cigar smoking bravura.
Ultimately this play reveals a circle of affection in a fractured complicated world. It is charming, funny, poignant and true.
The set is beautifully designed by the talented Rob Middleton. Two free standing archways tower like antiquities on either side of the raised sitting room. An unattached wall reflects a huge offstage window. There’s a feeling of impermanence here, a disconnection. The furniture is cozy but the privilege, of course, is fleeting. V
DRIVING MISS DAISY
Untill Feb. 22
@ Theatre Aquarius.
190 King William St., Hamilton.