Theatre Three is currently making and recreating history on its stage as it celebrates a monumental 50th season and presents Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Driving Miss Daisy.” The play takes a drive through mid-20th century America with stops at significant moments in our country’s saga – including the 1958 Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple bombing and the Civil Rights Movement. With outstanding performances by veteran Long Island actors and exceptional technical merit, this production takes audiences on a smooth ride.
“Driving Miss Daisy” explores the complex relationship between Daisy Werthan, a wealthy Jewish woman living in postwar Atlanta, and Hoke Colburn, her African American driver. The play begins with a literal bang as Daisy totals her car, leading her son, Bodie, to hire Hoke as her chauffeur. The cross and often supercilious Daisy initially resists the arrangement, resulting in a strained relationship. However, against all odds, the stubborn widow and a patient, compassionate Mr. Colburn form a unique friendship that challenges social norms and strengthens as the decades pass.
Phyllis March commands the stage as the titular Miss Daisy, evoking both humor and empathy despite the character’s initially stern veneer. Her dedication to the evolution of her character is well evident. As the years go by, Ms. March adjusts her movements, providing a realistic display of the effects of aging on the body, mind, and spirit.
In the driver’s seat, Antoine Jones brings the perfect levels of warmth and composure to his performance as Hoke. It’s terribly easy to fall in love with him by the conclusion of his first scene where he instantly charms with wonderful comic timing and a natural charisma. Mr. Jones also excels in the play’s most dramatic moments, most notably in a scene where he is forced to give Miss Daisy grim news about her bombed synagogue. Regardless of the fact he is younger than the character is intended – he told Melissa Arnold he is “about 20 years too young for the role” in an interview published this month – Mr. Jones expertly fills the shoes of many gifted actors who previously played Hoke. In fact, his father played the role 25 years ago on the very same stage – a fact that makes his performance all the more touching.
Steve Ayle completes this outstanding trio of performers as Bodie. The love and devotion he exhibits for his mother is tangible not only through his words, but through his facial expressions and body language.
Linda May expertly directs Uhry’s work with inspired, yet subtle choices – effectively showcasing her gifted cast. Randall Parsons’ adaptable and aesthetically pleasing scenic design is well utilized in those choices – existing as an expansive canvas to serve as the play’s many locations. Tim Haggerty’s sound design adds an additional dimension to the stage, bringing Daisy’s car to life with echoes of engines awakening and doors shutting. Meanwhile, Teresa Matteson’s remarkable period costumes and Lindsay DeFranco’s seamless wig stylings fully immerse the audience in Miss Daisy’s world.
It is somewhat rare to see a play presented by a large Long Island theatrical institution like Theatre Three. While musicals may be an arguably easier sell from a business standpoint, there is a level of artistry within a straight play that is not seen enough in our community. However, Theatre Three is presenting yet another play this spring – “Steel Magnolias,” which I’m very much looking forward to. With only two performances remaining, I would implore Long Island theatregoers to add “Driving Miss Daisy” to their weekend itinerary no matter how long the drive.
Visit Theatre Three’s website to purchase tickets for Friday, January 31 at 8 p.m or Saturday, February 1 at 8 p.m.
Photos by Brian Hoerger