The Sum of Its Parts: Driving Miss Daisy, a powerful representation of pride, race, and friendship.

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Stage West’s production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Driving Miss Daisy is a shining example of ensemble acting at its finest.

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Like Hole Coleburn, the play’s humble but proud chauffeur, award-winning British actor Joseph Marcell may be the star of the Stage West show, but he’s not the star. He is too kind an actor to let that happen. This is a production where three talented and seasoned actors work together at the height of their trades to bring a majestic sensibility to a very mild drama.

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Marcell is joined by Maureen Thomas as energetic southern Jewish widow Daisy Werthan and Christopher Hunt as her frustrated son Boolie, under the careful but understated direction of Jan Alexandra Smith.

Driving Miss Daisy is the story of what happens when 72-year-old Daisy wrecks another of her cars and her son decides he needs a driver. Actually, it’s the insurance company that decides she needs a chauffeur, but Boolie totally agrees. Hoke has been a driver in the past, but because he is in his 60s, he found himself unemployed for some time. Daisy, afraid that the people at the synagogue will think she’s flaunting his wealth, insists that she’d rather take the bus than have a chauffeur, but Hoke is now on Boolie’s payroll.

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Christopher Hunt, Joseph Marcell and Maureen Thomas in Stage West's Driving Miss Daisy.  Photo courtesy of John Watson
Christopher Hunt, Joseph Marcell and Maureen Thomas in Stage West’s Driving Miss Daisy. Photo courtesy of John Watson jpg

It is this ingenious scenario that playwright Alfred Uhry uses to pit the moody wealthy white woman against the poor but dignified black man to see how long it takes before they become the best of friends. The blossoming of that fragile friendship is what gives Driving Miss Daisy her charm, especially since Marcell and Thomas are so invested in their portrayals of these characters.

Initially, Marcell gives Hoke a kind of light-hearted arrogance, not only in his walk, but also in the way he talks. He knows his worth, but he also knows what people expect of him. He is never servile, but he is respectful. He is funny but never the clown and is tactful, honest, compassionate and kind.

Hoke wins over Boolie much faster than Daisy. The scenes where he gets Boolie to give him a raise are hilarious. Daisy proves to be the most annoying of the backseat drivers and Hoke handles her just as cunningly as she does Boolie.

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Daisy explains that she was a primary school teacher and that helps establish how Thomas approaches her. At first, he treats Hoke like he’s a student, but as the friendship develops, he softens not only his voice but his entire demeanor, so that when Daisy confesses to Hoke that he’s her best friend, it’s an admission. devastatingly beautiful.

Maureen Thomas and Joseph Marcell in Stage West's Driving Miss Daisy.  Courtesy John Watson Photography
Maureen Thomas and Joseph Marcell in Stage West’s Driving Miss Daisy. Courtesy John Watson Photography jpg

Having written the play in 1987, Uhry is not unaware of the racial tension that existed in America, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Marcell shows the sting Hoke feels the few times Daisy’s deep-seated prejudices surface. Hunt, who essentially plays comedic relief for much of the play, has one of his most powerful moments when Boolie explains why she can’t go to a Martin Luther King dinner. There’s a lot of pain in Hunt’s performance and it’s a perfect contrast to another great scene involving all three actors and a can of salmon.

The play follows Hoke, Daisy and Boolie through 25 years and Marcell, Thomas and Hunt show their aging by bending over and shuffling a bit as time goes on until the achingly beautiful final scene where they are all much older and more fragile.

With Marcell, Thomas, and Hunt in the driver’s seat, this 88-minute drive is well worth the effort. Driving Miss Daisy runs at Stage West through November 13.

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