Sunday, January 21, 2007

Opening-night review of *Driving Miss Daisy*

at Interplayers through Feb. 3

In Interplayers’ current production of Alfred Uhry’s *Driving Miss Daisy* (through Feb. 3), the script is better than the presentation — enough so that the play feels worth revisiting despite some less than ideal performance decisions.

Director Maynard Villers allows too many important moments to wither instead of resonate, and he slows the evening down with way too many between-scene blackouts. But in this friendship-of-opposites play, he gets sometimes uneven but often effective moments from Alice Kennedy in the title role and from Clarence Forech as her chauffeur Hoke.

In an initial interview scene, Forech slows the pace too much: Needing to impress both us and his potential employer (Daisy’s son Boolie, played by Tony Caprile), Forech isn’t cute or commanding enough. But his Hoke improves steadily from then on. Forech has a habit of dipping his chin for the early part of a line and then edging it slightly upward for the conclusion — a nice visual equivalent of Hoke’s tendency to act deferential while setting up appeals for what is his by right. (His repeated insistence on being treated with dignity, as a result, comes off as less strident — not as demands for racial equality but as simple facts.) Even in forgetting his lines, which he jumbled on occasion, Forech brought a genuine dimension to the chauffeur. Later in the show, when it’s clear that Hoke has better manners and greater compassion than his social superiors, Forech achieves the dignity that his character seeks.

Alice Kennedy is more successful at conveying Daisy’s aloofness than her vulnerability. Kennedy has a knack for butting into conversations with a quick wisecrack when you least expect it. She’s not forceful vocally — a fact that undercuts her ability to seem commanding and aristocratic. But more than I’d remembered, Daisy’s frugality and desire for privacy come across clearly in Kennedy’s performance. In the cemetery scene and some of the little speeches of self-revelation, however, Kennedy overdoes the stern-exterior bit. There’s a widow and a former schoolteacher inside there; she admired her husband and wanted to help her students, and we need to see more of that love and longing.

In a scene when it becomes clear that the working-class black man and the wealthy Jewish matron are both victims of ugly prejudice, Kennedy — with her eyes downcast, hands clutching her purse, a look of pain darkening her face — certainly looks the part of someone who’s just been struck with a sickening realization. But when Hoke recalls the horrific details of a lynching victim he saw when he was a child, the dialogue isn’t given its proper weight, and the moment loses its tragic potential. Forech rushes into a reassuring “Go ahead and cry now” to Miss Daisy before audience members have time to register the emotions that she must be feeling – and their own. Sitting there in the car, Kennedy looks devastated and Forech looks stoic. But the dialogue rushes by and the moment gets plowed under.

The point is worth emphasizing because the same mistake recurs so often in this production. Revelations of friendship and of personal weakness, the first paralleling of racial and religious prejudice — such matters come off like muttered small talk when they need to stand out instead as revelations of character. Villers needs to direct his actors to put more air in those moments — let some time elapse just before and after the big moments, and they’ll inflate properly. And then they’ll start to resonate with listeners.


The complete version of this review will appear in Thursday's *Inlander,* including additional comments on Tony Caprile's performance as Boolie (positive): on why the between-scene blackouts were such a drag (negative), and how they could have been avoided and were avoided in one instance, with good results; and on how the themes of Uhry's play still resonate today (positive) -- making this production worth seeing despite its weaknesses.

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