Sunday, October 31, 2010

Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry (1988)

Summary:  After an unfortunate accident involving the neighbor's garage, Boolie Werthan decides to hire a black chauffeur for his mother Daisy.  For the next twenty-five years, she resists Hoke's help while they both gradually develop a deep mutual affection toward one another.

Thoughts:  I flew through this play (much like my reading experience of Doubt, actually).  The language of this play is precise:  neither Daisy not Hoke wastes their time with superfluous anything--especially words.  As such, each of Uhry's lines reveals something about his characters.

In his Introduction, Uhry explains that these are real people--amalgamations of individuals he encountered over the course of his childhood in Atlanta.  Anyone who has grown up in the South has probably known their own Miss Daisy.  Maybe I loved this play because it reminded me of my own grandmother; but I also found myself moved by the simplicity of the story and detail of the characters lives as they stay together for twenty-five years. 

I have written before about film adaptions that have made it hard for me to get the voices of the film actors (Jimmy Stewart in Harvey) out of my head.  This was not one of them.  While I remember the cinematic performances offered by Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy (Academy Award, 1989), Uhry's play is as remarkable on paper as it is in performance.

I recently read a New York Times review of the 2010 Broadway revival starring Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones that noted the challenge of staging this play because it is certainly not a visual piece.  The article explained that the new production features slides in the background depicting the Civil Rights struggle and other events over the course of the twenty-five year setting (1948-1973).  After reading the play, I wonder why why why.  Uhry's work is strong enough to be produced with very little visual element...especially with actors like Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.

Photo credit:  Carol Rosegg
"I am in the process of writing the screenplay.  I have won the Pulitzer Prize.  Even as I write these words they seem unbelievable to me.  When I wonder how all this happened (which I do a lot!) I can come up with only one answer.  I wrote what I knew to be the truth and people recognized it as such."
-Alfred Uhry, Introduction

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