By John Soltes / Editor in Chief
Photo courtesy of Carol RoseggVanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones star in the Broadway premiere of Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize winning "Driving Miss Daisy," now in performances at the Golden Theatre.
NEW YORK (Nov. 10, 2010) — The new revival of "Driving Miss Daisy" at the Golden Theatre in New York City puts new life into this 80-minute play — but only to a certain degree. Starring the inimitable Vanessa Redgrave and iconic James Earl Jones, the production does perhaps the best job it can with source material that is emotionally stirring, but not terribly groundbreaking.
Redgrave plays the title character, a southern matriarch who was born in the 19th century and is watching the 20th century glide by from her Georgia home. Boyd Gaines stars as Daisy's son, Boolie, in another fine performance. The central conceit of the play is that Daisy is getting up there in age, and her son fears that her driving is deteriorating with her vision. Enter Hoke (Jones), a kind man from the local area who takes the unenviable role of Daisy's private chauffeur.
But this is no road trip saga. Daisy, a Jewish woman, is almost immediately at odds with the life experiences of Hoke, a black man who has felt the stinging reality of discrimination his entire life. The two are open to each other, but they are apples and oranges when it comes to common backgrounds. Daisy is hostile toward Hoke for he embodies the reality that she is getting old and nearing death. Hoke, a most pleasant man, is perfectly fine with Daisy's insistence on firing him. But he's also not a pushover, and refuses to be disrespected.
Through the years, which eventually become decades, the two grow fond of one another, relying on the company that comes when two souls find a shared comfort. Their relationship blossoms before the eyes of the audience members. These sticks in the mud eventually begin to loosen. Maybe there are common traits between Daisy and Hoke. Maybe they can learn from one another.
The play feels powerful, but that's probably more because of the actors' skill in delivering the words of Alfred Uhry. It's just that after 80 minutes, and yes a few touching moments, "Driving Miss Daisy" doesn't seem to hold up for too long. What should linger and haunt, instead feels like a dramatic outing at the theater. There is never a sense that the play equals the mighty fortitude of its own characters. Daisy and Hoke are American originals. They deserve to be watched and appreciated, but in the same sense they are simply people. There still needs to be an invigorating storyline to tell their tales. "Driving Miss Daisy" proves to be an adequate, but un-thrilling vessel.
David Esbjornson finds a nice fluidity between the household scenes and the conversations that Daisy and Hoke have while driving. The actual car is a clever set piece that turns in circles as Hoke grabs the wheels. The staging is certainly sleek. The actors — nay, these legends of the American theater — are pitch-perfect. Even the characters are great to behold. But it would have been nice if the glue was present, if everything came together and felt permanent. Instead, "Driving Miss Daisy" drives by and is content with its place as a passing aside. It shouldn't be. There's gold under this hood.
"Driving Miss Daisy" is currently playing the Golden Theatre at 252 W. 45th St. in New York City. Visit www.daisyonbroadway.com for more information. Performances continue through Jan. 29.