Pulitzer Prize Play Resonates in These Turbulent Times
By Sally Deering
A three-hander – a play featuring three actors – can be an intimate theater experience, especially when its performed in Mile Square Theatre’s gem of a performance space on Clinton Street in Hoboken. In this case, the three-hander is the Pulitzer Prize winning play Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry, the story of an aging Southern Belle, Daisy Werthan, and her aging African-American chauffeur, Hoke Colburn. During the course of the play, these two seniors, with a lot of history behind them, cover 25 years of a relationship that begins as a thorny dance between two strangers and develops into a deep love between two friends.
Driving Miss Daisy opens Wed., Jan. 31, and runs through Sun., Feb. 25, and features Barbara Broughton, Count Stovall and Matthew Lawler. Broughton, who plays Daisy, was recently seen on Broadway in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. Stovall, who plays Hoke, was in Broadway’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Lawler, who plays Daisy’s son Boolie was in MST’s Betrayal and has been seen in ABC’s The Family.
The creative team features Matthew J. Fick, set design; Peter Fogel, costume design; Justin Partier, lighting design; and MSTs Associate Artistic Director Mark Cirnigliaro directs.
Cirnigliaro directed last season’s hit The Net Will Appear – a two-hander about the friendship between an old codger and his young neighbor who help each other through a tough time. With Driving Miss Daisy, Cirnigliaro again directs a very intimate play in MSTs intimate theater.
“How do we find the humanity in each other,” Cirnigliaro says. “That’s the core tenet of the piece. Race is also a big part of the play. Both Daisy and Hoke are in a place at the top of the play where they are dealing with the other through stereotype. As the play moves forward, they come to see each other as people and in seeing each other as people, they fall in love. When I say fall in love, I mean it’s a deep romance. That’s more accurate.”
Cirnigliaro cast Broughton and Stovall – both Broadway veterans — because they bring years of life experience to their roles, he says. And for Stovall, after understudying James Earl Jones in the revival of Driving Miss Daisy on Broadway, he gets to put his own spin on Hoke. It seems James Earl Jones never missed a performance and, therefore, Stovall never got the chance to step into the role. All that’s changed, and now Stovall will have four weeks to play the coveted role.
“Count gives a wonderful vibrancy and energy to the work,” Cirnigliaro says. “He’s a wonderful person.”
Cirnigliaro speaks highly of Broughton’s portrayal of Daisy, too. Last seen on Broadway in the Sunday in the Park with George revival, Broughton brings a strong commitment and an “open heart” to her part.
Cirnigliaro says: “We have an amazing cast. The play spans 1948-1973. A lot happens in America over that time, technologically, culturally, politically. There’s a lot that has to be delved into and understood, so that the actors representing these wonderful people understand the world they’re living in at any given moment.”
Some might remember the film, Driving Miss Daisy, which starred two great actors, Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, who played Hoke to Dana Ivey’s Daisy in the original Off-Broadway production. The car, an old classic Oldsmobile, was also an important part of the film, and Cirnigliaro says a good portion of the stage play also takes place in the car, giving the audience the opportunity to use their imaginations.
“What separates theater from film, is that theater allows the audience to be an active participant,” Cirnigliaro says. “That is what makes theater unique. It engages the audience’s imagination in ways the movie can never.”
Chris O’Connell, Artistic Director of Mile Square Theatre says he chose Driving Miss Daisy for the theater’s 2017-2018 season because he wanted to honor Black History Month with an intimate play that would resonate in MST’s intimate space.
“I wanted to find a play that would draw an audience, that would get people in the door to see our work in this part of our development,” O’Connor says. “Then Driving Miss Daisy came to mind. I read it, but had never seen it on stage. So I re-read it, and I was really moved by it. Even though it’s a play written by a White writer and through a ‘southern white lens’, it is really a play about acceptance, about how we are all connected.”
If you go
Wed, Jan. 31-Sun, Feb. 5
Driving Miss Daisy
Mile Square Theatre
1400 Clinton St, HOB
Tix: $30-$40; $18 for students/seniors