Venice Theatre’s production of “Driving Miss Daisy” is a quintessential example of why we love community theater. The practically bare stage nurtured the intimacy of the skillfully played interaction between the three main actors. Suzanne Coccia as Daisy Werthan, Mike Gilbert as Boolie Werthan, and Autry Davis as Hoke Coleburn occupied their characters and transformed their surroundings through two decades of small shifts in Southern mores.
Alfred Uhry’s play, which won a Pulitzer prize and, as a movie with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, an Oscar, retains its charm and loving understatement under the subtle direction of VT’s Executive Artistic Director, Murray Chase. The audience laughed during and applauded after each perfectly realized scene.
Uhry grew up in Georgia, where, he said in an interview with Charlie Rose, everyone thinks himself a southerner first and an American second, and the Jews consider themselves southerners first, Americans second, and Jews third. And everyone knew where that left blacks during the period between WWII and the emergence of Martin Luther King. In the interview, Uhry stated that he felt all Jews in the South wished they had been born Episcopalians. In the play, Hoke, the black chauffeur, expressed the opinion that even though he’s a Christian himself, the local practitioners of a religion that professes to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” are all hypocrites and he prefers to work for Jews as he finds them more fair-minded.
“Driving Miss Daisy” was the first in a trilogy about the South that Uhry wrote, all of which won Tonys, including “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” and “Parade.” The play remains an optimistic, hopeful reminder of human connectedness, and that, despite our peccadillos and prejudices, or the vicissitudes of our environments, we, as individuals, and as a society can wake up and learn to love one another.
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