Driving Miss Daisy explores race and relation-ships on stage in Toronto
The set of Driving Miss Daisy in the Greenwin Theatre was a peaceful and immaculate home. It was clearly a place of wealth, or at least one of expensive taste. In the corner of the stage there was a steering wheel, a chair, and a back seat removed from a car. Although this part wasn’t in the centre of the stage, it was definitely at the centre of the play.
The play is about Daisy Werthan (Sharry Flett), an elderly Caucasian Jewish woman who is forced by her son Boolie (David Eisner) to quit driving after destroying her car in an accident. Boolie hires her an African-American chauffeur named Hoke Colburn (Sterling Jarvis), much to Daisy’s displeasure. Daisy resists the change, partly because of she feels like her independence is slighted, and partly because she is prejudiced against African-Americans. The play is set in Georgia in 1948, before the Civil Rights Movement. Racism is present in every scene, in the forefront and in the background.
Driving Miss Daisy was originally written by Alfred Uhry in 1987. The average person has heard of the film adaptation starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy, which won an Academy Award for Best Writing of an Adapted Screenplay. I had never seen the play or film. All I knew was that Driving Miss Daisy involved racism and a car. I was interested to see what the Greenwin Theatre’s adaptation, directed by Philip Akin, would be like.
I expected the play to be very nail-on-the-head about its lesson that racism is wrong. At times it was, but what surprised me was the nuance that was delivered on the subject. The play showed bold-faced discrimination alongside a more silent and equally toxic kind of hurt.
Daisy Werthan, played to perfection by Sharry Flett, delivers discrimination with a soft face. This isn’t to say that her attitude isn’t cutting, but she dismisses the idea of her being prejudiced because she believes she is good. I found this frustrating to watch, because I wanted to shake her for lack of self-awareness. The character felt so real.
Even better, while Daisy and Hoke bond, aspects of their personalities don’t undergo a complete overhaul. Daisy is still demanding, and Hoke still responds to her aid without much question. Old habits die hard. I appreciated that the story was less about the overcoming of racism, and more about an unexpected friendship.
One of the most impressive aspects of the play was how it depicted the passage of time. The ageing of the characters was done really well. Set and costume designer Sean Mulcahy managed to slowly show the physical changes of several characters over a span of 25 years.
The actors also changed their mannerisms to suit their respective ages. While they still had strong words and attitudes, their bodies portrayed increasing frailty. Their walking slowed and their backs became more stooped. Collectively, they showed an excellent attention to detail.
I would recommend this play to anyone. All three actors played their characters so well. The story had me engrossed and involved. It was a worthwhile experience.
- Driving Miss Daisy by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company is playing at The Greenwin Theatre (Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge Street)
- Shows are running until June 21st. Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday shows are at 8pm. Sunday shows are at 7pm. Matinees are at 1pm on Wednesdays and 2pm on Sundays.
- Tickets range from $35-$70 and can be purchased online.
- Photo credit: Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company (From left to right: Sharry Flett, Sterling Jarvis)
Photo of Sharry Flett and Sterling Jarvis by Joanna Akyol.