Watching Driving Miss Daisy should have been a very enjoyable experience. With a heart-warming plot about an old Jewish woman whose son hires her a Black driver at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia, this play should have been thought-provoking, vocal and endearing. Should is the operative word.
John Lee Beatty’s set is constantly moved by the cast which is incredibly distracting and causes pauses in the action that prevent the tension from ever developing from a mild simmer, while David Esbjornson’s direction means that his actors seem to be filling in for stagehands.. With few fixed focal points, at times it feels like a game of musical chairs, which in such a large space destroys the sense of intimacy that this play should excel at.
The technical inconsistencies throughout the play are very frustrating to watch. Slamming car door sound effects are used sporadically which detracts from the illusion rather than adding to it, while unfocused projections pull attention away from the action.
Alfred Uhry’s text itself touches upon the issues of race, age, sex and religion and subsequently becomes a jack of all trades but master of none. Wendall K Harrington’s projections of the Civil Rights movement attempt to create a sense of time and place which should have been left to Gwen Taylor and Don Warrington’s superb accents and physicality.
As Miss Daisy Taylor is a stubborn spitfire in a Southern Belle’s ageing body and she demonstrates the passing of time beautifully through her physicality and subtle gestures. Matched against Miss Daisy is her Black driver Hoke Coleburn played by Warrington. His accent never falters and he gives an understated performance. The script never allows these two characters to really get to grips with each other and although both Taylor and Warrington give fine performances, it leaves the audience feeling underwhelmed.
Ian Porter is able in his role of Daisy’s son Boolie and he manages to convey a realistic sense of frustration with the way that racism in 1950s Georgia affected people’s everyday lives. However the character is mainly a plot device and isn’t given enough scope for Porter to truly shine.
With the potential to be a truly moving play Driving Miss Daisy gets stuck in second gear and by the end of the show it runs out of gas.