Sunday, 7 April 2013

Driving Miss Daisy, April 6, 2013 *****

Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry
Produced by John Frost 
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, April 5 until May 12, 2013 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 6 
This review also published in print and online Herald Sun on Sunday April 7, 2013 
 Angela Lansbury & James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy; photo by Jeff Busby

It is a privilege to witness the consummate professionalism and fine acting of two of America’s stage and screen royalty, Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones, in their much-anticipated Melbourne opening of Driving Miss Daisy, the stage play written by Alfred Uhry.

The excitement was palpable at the Comedy Theatre and the audience, littered with local celebrities, was captivated by Lansbury and Jones’ funny, poignant, superbly crafted performances in this adorable, heart-warming story of burgeoning friendship spanning 25 years from 1948 to 1973.

Lansbury is entertainingly sharp-tongued and cantankerous as fiercely independent Daisy Werthan, a wealthy, elderly, Jewish woman living in Atlanta, Georgia, who, at 72, is forbidden by her son to drive after crashing her vehicle.

Jones is jovial, compassionate and dignified as Hoke Colburn, a poor, African-American chauffeur hired by Daisy’s frustrated son, Boolie (played with warmth and ease by Boyd Gaines), to drive Miss Daisy.

Lansbury tempers Miss Daisy’s brittle stubbornness with wry wit and a benevolent heart when she discovers that Hoke is illiterate.

She learns how the other half lives, about the inherent racism that Hoke endures in the South, and even experiences such racism personally when her synagogue is bombed.

Jones embodies the gentle, considerate and loyal soul of Hoke in his solicitous, respectful treatment of Miss Daisy and, of course, we thrill to the resonant, velvet tones of his all-too-familiar voice.

It is delicious to watch the evolution of Hoke and Miss Daisy’s relationship from resentful employer and patient employee into a warm, honest, generous and lasting friendship between two ageing and very different personalities.

The pair deals with conflict without raised voices as they battle their differences and tread a path from resistance to familiarity and, finally, to mutual respect and love.

Lansbury and Jones inhabit these characters totally and truthfully, and their comic timing and delivery are impeccable.

Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning dialogue is witty, intelligent and peppered liberally with laugh-out-loud moments arising from misunderstandings and verbal stand-offs that often culminate in a punch line to punctuate the end of a scene.

Other moments are tender and affecting, such as when Hoke reacts indignantly to bigotry, being treated disrespectfully, or in the final scenes when Miss Daisy and Hoke confront their own frailty and infirmity.

Audiences will be more familiar with the 1989 Hollywood movie, but Uhry’s stage play, episodic in form and deftly and unobtrusively directed by David Esbjornson, is more intimate and intensely focused on Miss Daisy and Hoke.

Lansbury and Jones must have more than a century of combined acting experience, but neither looks like retiring soon, and you’ll find yourself smiling benignly at the gentle charm of their enthralling and inspired performances.

By Kate Herbert
 Angela Lansbury in Driving Miss Daisy; photo by Jeff Busby


  1. I want to travel from California to Australia to see this play! With these actors who are the BEST of the BEST!!!

    How wonderful and quite astonishing that these actors found each other; found the producer; and are performing!

    Bravo all around!!

    How great for the world!

  2. I cannot imagine a more beautiful and inspiring review!

    I live in Santa Barbara, California; and I am dying to travel to Australia to see this play!

    (I love Australia, already.......but; now I am dying to go there to see these two immensely talented actors in this platt!