The theatre has raised the bar for itself, and it keeps clearing it with ease. We now expect every element of high end theatre in each production of our local shop: inspired acting, meticulous directing, creative set design and moments of pure delight. We get all those things, and more, in the 2018 season opener, Driving Miss Daisy.
Tailgating close behind its breakthrough 2017 season (The Net Will Appear, The 39 Steps, Betrayal, The 7th Inning Stretch and the griping noir thriller, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown), MST kicks off another promising slate with the Alfred Uhry masterpiece, which, yes, kids, was a movie way back in the last century. This play is better than that movie.
Set in Atlanta from the 1940s to the 1970s, Driving Miss Daisy shows us the unlikely friendship between an elderly white Southern Jewish woman, Daisy Werthan (played by Barbara Broughton), and her African-American chauffer, Hoke Colburn (Count Stovall).
Broughton brings a grounded earnestness to her character, with subtle yet unmistakable hints at the challenges of a fighting spirit in an aging body riding along in a changing world. Stovall exudes joy whenever he’s on stage, letting us feel Hoke’s pleasure about being a vital and necessary presence in the world, even in his own twilight years. They’re joined by Daisy’s son, Boolie, portrayed by MST favorite Matt Lawler, who turns in another solid, professional and stimulating performance.
There’s an easygoing feeling to this show, professionally transporting us to our destination with a few important stops along the way. After the often-frenetic pace of some of last season’s shows, it’s a gentle reminder that great theatre can move us in so many different ways. Tension, button pushing, conflict, drama, emotion, laughter, tears… these can be drawn out with raw energy or a gentle touch. Each in its own time. There’s a Southern sensibility to this particular show, a nonplussed pace that underlies what’s bubbling beneath the surface of every interaction. Credit director Mark Cirnigaliaro, who lets the scenes, actors and characters breathe and move according to their own schedule.
The set design by Matthew Fick is a wondrous accompaniment to the performances on the stage. Within the limited confines of the theatre, he’s created a Swiss Army knife of a space. The set, detailed and intimate, switches between several locations – a home, an office, a hospital, a graveyard and, of course, a car – with confidence, accuracy and ease.
Of course, like all great theatre, the original text and the modern production both deal with important social and personal issues. Issues which, for better or worse, we just can’t seem to shake: Race, religion, gender, bigotry, wealth, age and the true meaning of friendship.
Maybe it’s because some of these issues are flaring up so turbulently beyond the theatre walls, but the faithful and steady velocity of Driving Miss Daisy is a welcome respite from the real world out there. Sit back, buckle in and let Mile Square Theatre take you on a ride you’ll not soon forget.
Driving Miss Daisy, presented by Mile Square Theatre
1400 Clinton St., Hoboken
Through Feb. 25. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 p.m., and Sundays @ 3 p.m.
$30-40 • $18 students and seniors.
Tickets at www.milesquaretheatre.org or (201) 683-7014.
Jeff Kreisler is a Hoboken resident who writes, talks, and monkey-dances about money, politics, and life. He specializes in human encounters.