‘Driving Miss Daisy’ is a beautiful heart-warming story, the first in an ‘Atlanta Trilogy’ written by Alfred Uhry. Uhry, like Boolie in this semi-autobiographical play, is a Georgian born Jew. He wrote a couple of stage plays but was mainly known as a lyricist for stage musicals. ‘Daisy’ premiered in New York City in 1987 and went on to win the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The Australian stage production, which starred Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones, premiered in Brisbane in 2013. The 1989 film won four Oscars including Best Picture.
This wonderful tear-jerker is on nightly at 7.30 in the Koorliny Arts Centre, Sulphur Road, Kwinana until Saturday 22nd June. The 90-minute – NOT-TO-BE-MISSED – performances are in the small theatre, so the 90 tickets per show will be in great demand. The seating is cabaret style.
The scene: 1948 to 1973 in a wealthy home in Atlanta, Georgia.
The set: was designed by the director Jon Lambert, then constructed and painted by Jon, Allen Blachford and Matthew Manning. Special props were supplied by Kate McIntosh.
The set comprised a proscenium style arch, with the appearance of a stud wall, that spanned the stage. The ‘boxes’ created on the structure by the pine framework acted as screens for the AV projected images – designed by Jon Lambert. The projected visuals showed newspaper headlines, artworks, the name of each location and the date. The rear backcloth was covered in reproductions of newspaper cuttings, mainly relating to Martin Luther King. A huge amount of research work must have gone into what at first glances looked like a simple set. The furnishings were an office desk, an antique chair with telephone side-table.
On the stage apron at the side, was Miss Daisy’s car. The steering column with steering wheel and ignition lock were mounted on a stand.
The lighting and sound were designed and operated by Jon Lambert, however due to the complexity of both an extra operator was required, Alex Coutts-Smith. There were a tremendous number of lighting changes and intricate sound cues. As Miss Daisy and her driver entered the car, there was the clunk of the doors, the ignition starting, the purr of the engine as the car was heard to move off. Throughout the play there were many other subtle sound effects.
Stage manager Rachel Monamy was assisted by Allen Blachford and Kiana Roberts.
In the Deep South state of Georgia, Daisy Werthan (Suzannah Churchman), an elderly white Jewish woman is in her living room talking to her 40-yrs. old businessman son, Boolie (Ben Small). Miss Daisy had just crashed her car and demolished a couple of buildings, so Boolie insisted that at 72 she should stop driving as her insurance premium was now prohibitive.
Boolie bought his mother a new car but insisted that she now has a chauffeur. As he interviews Hoke Colburn (Erik Bibaeff), an unemployed 60-yrs. old African American, Hoke points out to Boolie that Jews are not as mean as people say; Hoke still got the job.
Initially, Miss Daisy was very wary, but she understood that being black is like being Jewish – ‘no one likes you’ – so the two social outcasts got on very well for years. The couple went through the tough times in the state.
Hoke has tolerated Miss Daisy’s deep-rooted standards and regal dignity, but how long can this friendship or working partnership last?
Director Jon Lambert has had a vast experience at directing, from serious dramas to top-rate musicals, his standards are unfalteringly. This cast has last year’s winner of Best Actress, Suzannah Churchman (can she do it again this year?), plus Ben Small who is a stalwart in any challenge; but who is this Erik chap? I thought I knew all the major actors. To be given a massive part in such a sensitive story, with 40 minutes of complex lines to learn he must have had decades of experience but been hidden in a cupboard for years – but no! For Erik this is his FIRST time on the stage. He was word perfect and interacted with the two experienced ‘professionals’ flawlessly. The three produced teamwork that was stunning.
The success was thanks to Jon Lambert’s guidance and their subtle performances. The understated dialogue, the soft Atalanta accents, the delicate body movements gave us a show filled with love and caring. Yes, the tissues will be required.
Jon Lambert and Alexis Kirk’s costumes covered the 25 years perfectly. From the cloche hats and coats with fur collars, to the smart and authentic chauffeur’s outfit, the regalia was perfect.
This is a very special show. If you have not seen the film (and I hadn’t) then this production and star cast will blow you away. Pure quality.