‘Driving Miss Daisy’ explores cultural climate change
Performance Network Theatre stages the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Alfred Uhry, which is still relevant.
A little drama, a little laughter and an unlikely story of the human condition come in the form of “Driving Miss Daisy” at the Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor this weekend through Oct. 26.
Set in the South, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play written by Alfred Uhry in 1987 explores the intricacies of a 25-year friendship, which began in 1948, between a Southern Jewish woman, Miss Daisy, and Hoke, her African-American chauffeur.
“We’re used to Jewish people being in the big cities, or we associate them more with New York City and some other cities more than in the rural South,” says Nancy Kammer, who plays Miss Daisy. “I’ve been looking at the parallels between the prejudice against Jews and against blacks, and how that comes into play with this very odd friendship that develops.”
The play was adapted into a movie in 1989, starring Jessica Tandy as Miss Daisy and Morgan Freeman as Hoke, a role he originated in the Off-Broadway version from 1987 through 1990. The movie racked up four Academy Awards in 1990 for Best Picture, Best Actress (Tandy), Best Makeup and Best Screenplay Adaptation.
Kammer says she found herself intrigued by how the play tackles the cultural climate of the era — post-World War II and pre-Civil Rights Movement — and how the climate changes over time.
“She’s coming right out of the knowledge that the people in this country had absorbed after the war, after the liberation of the concentration camps and the horrors of that prejudice and attempted genocide of the Jews.
“And the pre-Civil Rights era of the South. So it’s been interesting to delve back into some of those complexities of this odd friendship being able to happen ... being able to grow.”
Director John Manfredi calls the play a strong season opener, as it lands on a topic that is still pertinent today.
“What’s happening in the world and across this country, … race is still an issue, and this play addresses that, and it’s touching and funny,” he says.
James Bowen has a strong relationship with his character, Hoke. It’s a role he keeps returning to; this marks the third time.
“It’s a new experience each time,” says the actor. “I’ll see things in the script now and I’ll think, ‘How did I not see that before? You didn’t have the life experience so you didn’t even know what that was,’ and there’s no substitute for life experience.”
Bowen also says he sees the play as a jewel — with roles that are gifts for actors of a “certain” age.
“Even though on the surface they may seem like stereotypes, of a sort,” he says. “But they are so well written and the story is so well told, that they are quite full human beings.
“And it’s always an honor to get to play people who have been written so well, and to get to bring your life to this particular playwright’s work.”
In partnership with Olympia Entertainment, “Driving Miss Daisy” will travel from Ann Arbor following its Oct. 26 closing to City Theatre in Detroit for a brief stay starting Oct. 31.
Andrea Daniel is a Detroit-based freelance reporter.
‘Driving Miss Daisy’
7:30 p.m. Thurs.,
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.,
3 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.
120 E. Huron,
Oct 31-Nov. 2
7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.,
2 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m.
and 5 p.m. Sun.
2301 Woodward, Detroit