“When looking for a play to open the 2018 season, I was searching for a work that dealt with the tension between race and class and decided to re-read Alfred Uhry’s well known play, ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’” said Artistic Director Chris O’Connor. “I was moved by its heart and its strength as a work of drama. And it’s still very relevant in a time in the world when tolerance and acceptance are under assault by a rising tide of bigotry.”
“Driving Miss Daisy” is set in the South between the late 1940s and early 1970s. Daisy Whitman is forced to hire a driver when she backs her car into a neighbor’s garage. Her son hires Hoke, an African-American who is initially dismissed by his elderly boss as an unnecessary nuisance. Daisy insists she is still able to drive herself and resents Hoke for having to constantly depend on his services. She soon discovers that she has more in common with Hoke than she first thought and the play explores the unlikely friendship that soon develops.
“It’s a beautifully written play with a strong emotional appeal,” said O’Connor. “It’s actor-driven, meaning it really relies on the excellence of the actors… and it’s really a play about acceptance. It’s about tearing down walls and I feel in these times, with as much hateful rhetoric as there is in the world, this positive and gentle play will resonate with a lot of people.”
O’Connor said he selected the play last year after specifically searching for a play in honor of Black History Month which would resonate with people.
“The play is kind of a love story,” said O’Connor. “Not a romantic love story, but it’s about finding friendship where you think you wouldn’t find it. It’s about finding commonalities in each other. These people are from two very different worlds… and you see how they need each other and how they can co-exist and through that they become best friends… and that’s really a very powerful emotion.”
“I think that’s something the world needs to feel, it needs to understand, and it needs to be able to look more at where we share things, more than where we are in opposition to one another. It is life affirming, and I think right now we need that.”
Challenges and luck
O’Connor said the play presented them with some design challenges due to the play spanning 30 years of time, historical references and the theater’s limited budget.
“We work on limited budget,” said O’Connor. “We aren’t a heavily endowed theater so we become really resourceful. This play is requiring period furniture. Sourcing the props and the furniture has always been a challenge but we got lucky. Someone moved out of their house in Hoboken recently and they had all this mid-century furniture they were getting rid of, so we were able to get a lot of great stuff. It is always a challenge to make a play look as good as possible with as little money as possible.”
He said the company is fortunate to have great designers who “do the lion’s share” of the play’s sets.
He said one of the challenges was the play goes from location to location, so resident designers Mathew Fick, costume designer Peter Fogel, and the play’s director Mark Cirnigliaro had to create a design that would allow for not only a transformation from place to place but also changes in time.
“The set is for the most part the interior of Daisy’s house but we can move to other locations,” said O’Connor. “For example there’s a scene in her son Boolie’s office, there is a graveyard scene, a scene in a hospital and of course there are a lot of driving scenes.”
He said the driving scenes allow for audience imagination.
“For those scenes, we’ve created the car from chairs and a steering wheel and magically you’re in the car, which leaves much to the audience’s imagination,” said O’Connor.
He added that they have been really lucky as the rehearsals have been fruitful and when they had auditions for the cast roughly 40 actors showed with long resumes.
“We had a good choice of actors to choose from,” said O’Connor. “We had an embarrassment of riches. Barbara Broughton, who plays Daisy, has a wealth of experience on Broadway and Count Stovall, who plays Hoke, does too, and he was actually the understudy for James Earl Jones who performed ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ a few years back.”
The play also stars Matthew Lawler as Daisy’s son. He is best know for his role as Agent Gabe Clements in ABC’s “The Family.”
Get your tickets
The play will take place at the Mile Square Theater at 1400 Clinton St. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. The opening night celebration will be on Feb. 2.
Tickets for the preview shows on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 cost $15. Tickets for later shows start at $30 or $18 for students and seniors.
Tickets can be purchased at www.milesquaretheatre.org, or by calling (201) 683-7014.
Discount parking is available at The Harlow at 1330 Willow Ave. and at Little Man Parking at 1300 Jefferson St.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.