Pulitzers play Little Rock – DRIVING MISS DAISY

TWT DMDWith minimal set needs and only three actors, Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy has been popular with theatres of all levels since it premiered in 1987.  There have been numerous Little Rock productions over the past thirty years.

Actress and director Judy Trice starred in the Weekend Theater’s production in 2016.  Her costars were Jermaine McClure and Jay Clark.  The play was directed by Andy Hall (who is currently directing Assassins for the Weekend Theater).  The three actors obviously relished the chance to age several decades over the course of the play and mine Uhry’s script for its humor and humanity.

While many plays may fall out of favor over time, it is likely that Driving Miss Daisy will continue to be performed repeatedly.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

Drive (or walk or bike) to MISS DAISY

TWT DMDBecause of the success and awards of the movie version, and the way some of the lines have entered the vernacular especially as comic punch lines, it is easy to forget that Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy is a quiet, unassuming play. He did not set out to write a “great” play or a social screed, in fact it was quite a surprise when it won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The Weekend Theater brings Uhry’s episodic drive through the decades to life in its current offering. Under Andy Hall’s deft direction, it avoids the treacly trap that can often befall productions of this three-hander.

It is not that Hall’s production is without sentiment, but the emotions on stage are grounded in the moment. There is no mawkish lingering when the characters make an emotional connection. Considering that the script calls for cyclical closeness and distance among the trio, keeping emotions in check and in the moment serves the story and the playwright.

The plot, as if anyone needs a précis, involves a well-off (but don’t call her rich) Jewish widow, her businessman son, and the African American chauffer engaged by said son to transport said mother. Even if the audience was unfamiliar with the plot, it is pretty obvious that the titular matron and her driver will move from adversaries to unlikely friends. While the destination may be a formulaic and foregone conclusion, just like taking a trip, joy can be found in the journey.

Jermaine McClure plays the driver, Hoke. He avoids the stereotype of being the long-suffering, noble, simple-but-wise, African American. Though the part is not written that way, it has often been acted that way. His Hoke is kind, respectful, joyous, and a bit mischievous. McClure is obviously enjoying his part as much as Hoke enjoys interacting with both Daisy and her son. As he ages in the play, he doesn’t try to take on too much affectation—his character may move a bit slower—but he adds little touches such as prolonged squinting to show failing eyesight.

The role of the son, Boolie, is part instigator, part comic relief, and part time-filler so that the other two actors can be made to look older backstage. But Jay Clark imbues him with depth and pathos. He clearly enjoys the more comic moments (including wearing the most ridiculous Christmas outfit this side of Christmas Vacation), while also bringing heart and humanity to his quieter moments as well. Clark has a strong connection with each of his co-stars.

As good as the two gentlemen are, the evening clearly belongs to Judy Trice as Daisy Werthen. Her Daisy is a woman who has always been in control and is now grappling with the loss of that power. Her fussiness comes from frustration rather than from malice. Daisy is a complex woman who can see the biases in others without recognizing her own. Trice is not trying to be the lovable “little old lady” of heartwarming literature nor the stern battle-axe with a heart that needs to be awakened. Instead she presents a multi-faceted woman who is set in her ways but still has a desire to live a fulfilling life. With a sly smile and a drawn out word, she can be dangerous as she drops a veiled insult or commit theatrical larceny by stealing a scene through uttering a simple witticism.

Trice seems to get physically frailer as the play progresses, but that is not the most remarkable part of her transformation. Throughout the play her eyes sparkle with a vivacity that substantiates the sharp tongue and sharper mind of the heroine. Those eyes glimmer, that is, until the final scene. As she sits in near silence with a vacant, unfocused stare, it is hard to believe this is the same actress who has been so full of life throughout the rest of the play. Yet moments later the twinkle returns as she steps out to take her well-earned bow at the curtain call.

This production serves as a reminder that an enjoyable experience at the theatre does not need bells and whistles. It merely needs a strong story, adept actors, and a director who is able to meld the two.

Driving Miss Daisy continues at the Weekend Theater through April 17. Performances are at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday matinees at 2:30.

DRIVING MISS DAISY at CALS Ron Robinson Theater tonight

RRT driving-miss-daisy-posterThe Oscars are later this month, but tonight is a chance to see the winner of the 1989 Best Picture Oscar – DRIVING MISS DAISY. It will screen tonight at 7pm at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater.

Tickets are $5.  Concessions are available for purchase.

Based on the 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Driving Miss Daisy tells the story of a textile factory owner who insists on hiring an ever-patient chauffeur for his aging head-strong mother. The Jewish woman and her African American driver eventually build a relationship over many years.

In addition to winning the Oscar for Best Picture, star Jessica Tandy won the Oscar for Best Actress.  Morgan Freeman and Dan Aykroyd each earned Oscar nominations for their performances.  Others in the cast include Patti LuPone and Esther Rolle.

Directed by Bruce Beresford (who surprisingly did not pick up a nomination for Best Director), the film was adapted by Alfred Uhry from his original stage play. Uhry won an Oscar for his writing. The film also earned a fourth Oscar for Best Makeup.  In addition to the nominations for Freeman and Aykroyd’s performances, it picked up nominations for Art Direction, Costumes, and Editing.

Musicals and Plays on schedule for 23rd Season at Weekend Theater

WeekendTheaterThe Weekend Theater has recently announced their 2015-2016 season.  The 23rd season for this volunteer theatre includes seven plays, three musicals and a one-man show.

The Addams Family
By Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice and Andrew Lippa.  Based on characters created by Charles Addams.
June 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 2015
Directed by Tom Crone; Music Direction by Lori Isner

Two families with vastly divergent cultures, mores, and expectations collide when the Addams hosts a dinner for Wednesday Addams’ “normal” boyfriend and his parents. Trust and fear, love and truth, acceptance and forgiveness are just a few things on the menu in this magnificently macabre new musical comedy created by Jersey Boys authors, Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice and Drama Desk Award winner, Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party).


American Idiot
By Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day and Michael Mayer
July 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, 31, August 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 2015
Directed by Frank O. Butler; Music Direction by Lori Isner

The two-time Tony Award-winning hit musical — based on Green Day’s Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum album – is an energy-fueled rock opera that brings us face-to-face with the perils of war, drug addiction, escapism, and the power of true friendship, as Will, Johnny, and Tunny struggle to find meaning in a post-9/11 world.

Contains adult language and situations.


Two Trains Running
By August Wilson
August 21, 22, 28, 29, September 4, 5, 2015
Directed by Jamie Scott Blakey and Margaret Parker

This is the 1960s chapter of the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright’s decade-by-decade saga of ordinary African Americans in this turbulent century. In Memphis Lee’s Coffee Shop we meet a local sage, an ex con, a numbers runner, a laconic waitress, and a mentally handicapped man through which, with Chekhovian obliqueness, Wilson reveals simple truths, hopes and dreams, creating a microcosm of an era and a community on the brink of change.


The Shape of Things
By Neil LaBute
September 25, 26, October 2, 3, 9, 10, 2015
Directed by Byron Taylor

This modern day retelling of the fall of man challenges our most deeply entrenched ideas about art and love. In The Shape of Things, Evelyn, a sexy, aggressive artist, and Adam, a shy, insecure student, become embroiled in an affair after meeting in a museum. Before long, Adam, under Evelyn’s steady influence, goes to unimaginable lengths to meet her approval, and the show veers into the kind of dangerous, seductive territory that LaBute does best.


God’s Man in Texas
By David Rambo
November 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 2015
Directed by Allison Pace

Faith and egos collide in the age of mass-market religion at Houston’s Rock Baptist Church. A search committee has been secretly formed to find a successor to Rock’s legendary pastor, and a young up-and-comer is asked to audition for the job. The Biblical struggle climaxes during Rock’s spectacular annual electrical Christmas parade.


The Foreigner
By Larry Shue
December 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 2014
Directed by Matthew Mentgen
Winner of two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards as Best New American Play and Best Off- Broadway Production, this off-beat comedy demonstrates what can happen when a group of devious and bigoted characters, including a two-faced minister and his bigoted associate, must deal with a stranger who (they think) knows no English but who has heard more than he should of their unscrupulous plans.


Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays
By Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick, and Doug Wright; Conceived by Brian Shnipper
January 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30, 2016
Directed by Duane Jackson

This collection of monologues and short stories celebrates the recent advances in winning marital rights for gay and lesbian couples, and how the changing laws are changing lives. This mostly genial and often funny omnibus holds a magnifying glass to the highs and lows, joys and fears, courage and silliness, of people bucking trends and making history.


Once on This Island: A Musical
By Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
February 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 26 , 27, 28, 2016
Directed by Monica Clark-Robinson; Music Direction by Greg Robinson

From the Tony Award-winning songwriting team that brought you Ragtime, comes this Tony nominated, Olivier Award-winning musical set in the Caribbean Sea concerning a peasant girl on a tropical island, who uses the power of love to bring together people of different social classes. From the first song you will be enthralled by the music and engaging lyrics of this magical story which includees hints of Romeo and Juliet and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Little Mermaid.


By Leonard Nimoy; Based on the play “Van Gogh” by Phillip Stephens
March 18 and 19, 2016
Directed by Alan Douglas

In van Gogh’s lifetime, he sold only one painting and critics labeled his work madness. His story, however, is so much more than that of the misunderstood genius who cut off his own ear. In this play, Vincent’s brother, Theo, movingly reveals Vincent as few knew him, arguing the bigger meaning and significance of his brother’s life to all humankind. As seen through the eyes of Theo, Vincent van Gogh lives on as a symbol of inspiration, courage, passion, and the lust for life that art kindles in all of us.

This is a special presentation, not part of the regular season.


Driving Miss Daisy
By Alfred Uhrey
April 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10 15, 16, 17, 2016
Directed by Andy Hall

The place is the Deep South, 1948, just prior to the civil rights movement, where Daisy Werthan, a rich, sharp- tongued Jewish widow of seventy-two learns that she must rely on the services of a chauffeur, a thoughtful, unemployed black man. In a series of absorbing scenes spanning twenty-five years, the two, despite their mutual differences, grow ever closer, realizing they have more in common than they ever believed possible.


A Piece of My Heart
By Shirley Lauro
May 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 2016
Directed by Betty Fernau

This is a powerful, true drama of six women who went to Vietnam: five nurses and a country western singer booked by an unscrupulous agent to entertain the troops. The play which was recently been named “The most enduring play on Vietnam in the nation,” by The Vietnam Vets Association, portrays each young woman before, during, and after her tour in the war-torn nation, drawing attention to the largely unsung American women who served in Vietnam.