Many people are familiar with the story of “Driving Miss Daisy” from the 1989 film starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. Before the success of the movie, however, the story was told in an Off-Broadway play that also featured Freeman as driver Hoke Coleburn.
Studio Theatre of Long Island’s Bayway Arts Center is currently showcasing a wonderful production of the play featuring three extremely talented actors.
The play tells the story of Daisy Werthan and the relationship she has with the driver that her son hires for her, Hoke Coleburn. The play takes place over a period of about 25 years, from the late 1940s to the 1970s. The audience is introduced to Miss Daisy, played here by the exceptional Rosemary Innes, when she is in her 70s and has recently been in a minor car accident. Her son, Boolie, played by Glen Beck, hires her a driver, much to her annoyance. Her chauffeur, a Black man in his 60s, is Hoke Coleburn. At first, Miss Daisy puts up quite a resistance to having Hoke as her driver. In a pivotal scene, she calls her son over to ask him to fire Hoke after she notices a can of salmon missing from her pantry. However, when Hoke comes into work that morning, he apologizes to Miss Daisy for forgetting to tell her he ate her can of salmon the night before and presents her with a new one that he bought. Over the years, Hoke and Miss Daisy develop an important friendship that impacts both of their lives.
T. Ramsey Pack, who plays Hoke, is stellar in a role that has so many nuances. He is not much younger than Miss Daisy, yet drives her around until she has to be put into a nursing home. Even in his old age, Hoke visits her at the nursing home. Anyone who has ever had to watch a loved one age and slowly lose their freedom will empathize with the final few scenes, as both Miss Daisy and Hoke grow old and Miss Daisy starts to experience memory issues. I was really struck by how Pack played an aging Hoke, a man who worked well into his life and will most likely not be able to afford to enter a nursing home like Miss Daisy when he is older. Still, he maintains their friendship and helps feed her when she cannot feed herself. Hoke has every reason to be bitter, but he loves Miss Daisy and their friendship. It is heartbreaking to watch both an aging Miss Daisy struggle with simple tasks when all she wanted was independence, as well as an aging Hoke help her, knowing that he will probably not have all the luxuries she has as he ages. This reporter shed more than a few tears at the moving ending.
Innes, as Miss Daisy, is phenomenal. Every person knows or has a Miss Daisy-like character in their lives. Innes played Miss Daisy with humor and heart. Glen Beck as Boolie, Miss Daisy’s son, is also great. Anyone who has taken care of a sometimes-cantankerous aging parent will sympathize with him and understand his love for his mother.
“Driving Miss Daisy” is playing at Bayway through April 24. Tickets can be bought at studiotheatrelongisland.com.
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