Stage West’s Driving Miss Daisy leads with a heartfelt story and flawless performances

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When you think of the story Driving Miss Daisy, you think of the 1989 film, starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy. But this script, written by Aldred Uhry, was originally a play and Stage West has produced it, starring Joseph Marcell, best known for his role as Geoffrey on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

This production is a really good reminder of why I love theatre. It is a heartfelt story that is aware of the complications of the time, surrounding politics and race, but it is focused on the unlikely friendship at the centre of the story. The narrative unfolds at a good pace and it is a joy to watch the friendship bloom. With stellar performances and intimate staging, Stage West’s production of Driving Miss Daisy is a production filled with affection and friendship love.

The play, set in the south of America, in1948 just prior to the civil rights movement, tells of Daisy Werthan (Maureen Thomas) who has recently crashed her car and therefore insurance companies won’t cover her anymore. Her son Boolie (Christopher Hunt) is concerned and is looking to hire a driver. Daisy is understandably upset about this, but reluctantly agrees. Boolie finds a hardworking and devoted chauffer Hoke (Joseph Marcell) who is challenged by his employer, who at first refuses to have him drive her anywhere. He slowly breaks down her walls and they find themselves building a close but unlikely friendship. Over the span of 25 years, the audience has the privilege of watching this dear friendship, with it’s ups and downs, between a rich Jewish woman and her Black chauffeur unfold. In the end, when Daisy is in her nursery home, her old spunk hollowed out, on her good days she is able to engage in her friendship with Hoke.

The entire cast embody their characters with Hunt playing the doting son while also being annoyed and impatient with his mother. He shows his affection for his mom in the little ways in which he kisses her head and says: “You’re a doodle mama.” Thomas is so measured and sure as Daisy, pulling off indignant and sassy without going over the top. Marcell transforms onstage to embody Hoke and all his patience and loyalty and kindness.

Jan Alexandra Smith’s direction is innovative on Stage West’s stage, making sure that this story that only features three characters, doesn’t feel small. Whenever Daisy and Hoke get into a car, a small, raised stage with a bench for the backseat and two chairs and a steering wheel, which is all one unit on wheels is moved onstage. In combination with Chis Stockton’s sound and Ian Martens’ lighting design, you barely notice that there isn’t actually a car onstage. Deitra Kalyn’s costume design captures the changing times and captures the span on years accumulated on the characters as the story progresses.

Stage West’s production of Driving Miss Daisy is a lovely production that is warm and full of heart. You will leave the building with a belly full of food and a heart bursting with affection for live theatre.

Stage West’s Driving Miss Daisy runs until November 13th. More information is available online.

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