Same three-person cast. Original director. A familiar story of an unlikely friendship between a white woman too old to drive and the black man hired to chauffeur her around town. All returning to a stage where one may think it has previously played but where it will finally make its debut this week, eight years after the original local production premiered.
Theatre Guild Valdosta first presented “Driving Miss Daisy” in 2005. It starred Joanne Griner in the title role as Daisy Wertham, Dr. John Gaston as driver Hoke Colburn, and Robert Hatton as Daisy’s son, Boolie, who hires Hoke to drive Miss Daisy.
All three of these actors have returned for this revival. Griner reprises the role after enjoying a stellar return to the stage in recent months; she played Carrie Watts, the aging woman who longs for her youthful home in TGV’s “The Trip to Bountiful;” more recently, she played Madame Armfeldt in Peach State Summer Theatre’s “A Little Night Music.” Both were memorable roles. Gaston returns to Hoke following his retirement this summer as dean of
Valdosta State University’s College of the Arts. Hatton has not been seen regularly with Theatre Guild in a few years, but has returned for this role.
Mary Helen Watson has also returned as director. She directed this cast in the first 2005 TGV “Driving Miss Daisy.” Watson says the characters and script came back quickly to the cast.
“Going through it twice, most of the lines came back to them,” Watson says.
With opening night Friday, “Driving Miss Daisy” returns less than a week after Theatre Guild closed its first show of the 2013-14 season, “9 to 5: The Musical,” which wrapped with a last performance this past Saturday night. “Driving Miss Daisy” is a special season addition, all part of the Guild’s ongoing 25th anniversary celebration.
Though a revival, this week marks the first time “Miss Daisy” will appear in the Guild’s home of The Dosta Playhouse in Downtown Valdosta. “Miss Daisy” has never been a part of a Guild regular season. It has always been a bonus show, so in the past, though a TGV production, it appeared on other stages, such as Mathis City Auditorium, outdoors in the Saunders Park amphitheater, in the old King of the Road; it traveled to other South Georgia towns. It was revived in 2006 and 2009, but it has never been performed on The Dosta stage until now.
Yet, no matter its location, “Driving Miss Daisy” is a story as familiar as home, as close as our nation’s history.
As a stage play, “Driving Miss Daisy” is a series of theatrical vignettes, which paints a strong portrait of three characters, an unexpected friendship, the passing of time and the coming of the civil-rights era.
Based on reviews from past performances, Griner presented Daisy in a slow thaw as she warms to Hoke through the years. Her Daisy is caustic with a withering glance or a vituperative comment, funny, and touching. She brought this character to full life.
Gaston has proven brilliant as Hoke. He has said as much with his facial expressions and body language as with the lines provided for Hoke. Gaston gives Hoke an underlying dignity. Hoke’s body has had to occasionally bow to oppression but not his spirit. Gaston translated these multiple parts of Hoke with a humorous, compassionate and nuanced performance.
Hatton’s Boolie serves as a bridge between Hoke and Daisy’s early relationship as well as a link to mark the passing of several years. Like Gaston and Griner, Hatton brought a believable life to Boolie who is both perplexed and prepared for his cranky mother and the steady driver he’s hired for her.
They achieved all of this without resorting to imitation of the Jessica Tandy-Morgan Freeman performances in the movie version of Alfred Uhry’s script.
In 2009, as this cast prepared for a series of out-of-town shows, Watson said then that those performances would be the last revival of TGV’s “Driving Miss Daisy.” If she and the cast come even close to the past productions, area theatre-goers will be pleased that some promises are made to be broken.
Theatre Guild Valdosta presents “Driving Miss Daisy.”
When: Show runs 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23, 24; 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25.
Where: The Dosta Playhouse, 122 N. Ashley St.
More information, reservations: Visit www.theatreguildvaldosta.com