Boolie Werthan (Glenn Suyker), center, is hard-pressed to convince his mother Daisy (Lorus A. Hawbecker) to accept Hoke Colburn (Ed Walker Jr.), the chauffeur he’s hired for her in the Island Community Theatre’s production of “Driving Miss Daisy.”
Tears filled more than a few eyes at the poignant ending of the Island Community Theatre’s opening performance of “Driving Miss Daisy” at the Catherine A. Hickman Theater in Gulfport.
ITC president Phil Twitchell was pleased to hear it.
“Then we’ve done our job – to absorb you into their world,” said Twitchell, also the producer of this show.
The 1987 Pulitzer winning play tells of the quarter-century relationship between petulant, rich, Jewish widow Daisy Werthan (Lorus A. Hawbecker) and her African-American chauffeur, Hoke Chandler (Ed Walker Jr.).
Set in 1948 to 1963 Atlanta, Ga., “Driving Miss Daisy” was the first of three plays writer Alfred Uhry, the only American writer to win a Pulitzer, an Oscar (for the screen adaptation two years later) and a Tony (in 1996 and again in 1999 for the second and third parts of his Atlanta trilogy), wrote about Atlanta’s Jewish community.
More than just illustrating the heartwarming, often humorous, tale of a stubborn septuagenarian’s begrudging acceptance of the chauffeur, her son, Boolie, (Glenn Suyker) hires after she demolishes yet another car, Uhry intertwines the struggles of two persecuted minority groups in the post-WW II South.
Five years before four young black girls died in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., the side wall of Atlanta’s oldest synagogue, the Temple, was blown apart by 50 sticks of dynamite – partly because of its rabbi’s outspoken support of the early civil rights movement. Having lived a somewhat sheltered, although not always prosperous, life, Daisy is shaken by the event.
“Miss Daisy,” Hoke tells her when she asks who would do such a thing, “you know as good as me it always be the same ones.”
ITC’s production was nicely staged using lighting and a minimum of set changes to create various scenes. Two black boxes, a steering wheel mounted on a movable stand, and imagination created the car – cars, rather, of varying models and years referred to briefly indicating the passage of time.
Between-scenes music from big band to blues and subtle costuming changes also provided clues as to approximate dates in the first act, but weren’t carried through as well to the second.
With only three characters on stage, all needed to be portrayed convincingly – and they were – to make the play work. Hawbecker’s detailed depiction of Miss Daisy’s physical aging produced a palpable silence from the audience; and Suyker’s balancing act between respectful, if sometimes humoring, deference for and exasperation with his opinionated mother drew knowing chuckles from those who’ve been there and likely done that.
Walker’s subtle changes as he portrayed the equally strong-willed, nobody’s fool, Hoke, and his ability to adapt his timing to the other two actors’ as he played off of their characters made his performance the most versatile of the three.
“Driving Miss Daisy” plays through Oct. 16 at the Hickman Theater at 5501 27th Ave. S. in Gulfport. Curtain times are 8 p.m. Oct. 13, 14 and 15, and 1:30 p.m. Oct. 16. Call 568-0956.