Thursday, March 26, 2009

Atlanta's Most Cherished Southern Story, Driving Miss Daisy, Journey's Home

Theatrical Outfit
Apr 22 - May 17

It’s been twenty-one years since Driving Miss Daisy by Atlanta native Alfred Uhry, made its Southeastern premiere on the Alliance stage, where it had a successful two-year run with Robert J. Farley as director; this spring, Farley returns to direct the play at Theatrical Outfit at the Balzer Theater at Herren’s from April 22 through May 17, 2009.

In those two decades, Driving Miss Daisy has been around the block a few times, winning both a Pulitzer Prize for its Off-Broadway production in 1987 and an Academy Award for Best Picture for its 1989 film version (for which Uhry wrote the screenplay). The first of Uhry’s “Atlanta Trilogy” of plays about Jewish life in Atlanta (which includes The Last Night of Ballyhoo and Parade), Driving Miss Daisy is largely autobiographical, with the characters fashioned after Uhry’s own grandmother Lena Fox and her chauffeur Will Coleman, and contains many references to local landmarks and sites, as well as to the City’s past: an ice storm that paralyzed Atlanta, the bombing of The Temple, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speaking engagement at The Biltmore.

In a series of simple and evocative vignettes spanning the years from 1948 to 1973, the play chronicles the servant-employee relationship and the developing bond of friendship between Daisy Werthan, an irascible, strong-willed Jewish matron living in the affluent Druid Hills neighborhood, and her chauffeur Hoke Coleburn, the dignified yet affable African American hired by her concerned middle-aged son Boolie Werthan, a shrewd businessman who refuses to let his mother continue driving after a series of car accidents make her uninsurable.

Driving Miss Daisy is highly reflective of the changing racial and social climates in the Deep South during this era; it works on many levels to demonstrate how status, wealth, discrimination and prejudice colored Daisy’s world and how, over time, her deepening affection for Hoke tore down many of those barriers.

Of his decision to direct the play again, Robert J. Farley remarks, “Driving Miss Daisy is Atlanta’s play, one of its most enduring theatrical legacies, and now at Theatrical Outfit, it will be a whole new legacy, with a completely different cast and in downtown Atlanta. What better place to do it?”

Indeed, Theatrical Outfit is uniquely situated to present this play, since its renovated space in downtown Atlanta was once the famous Herren’s Restaurant, the first eating establishment to voluntarily desegregate in 1962, and just around the corner from Forsyth Street, where Miss Daisy had her humble childhood upbringing. The playwright Uhry explained why he thought Driving Miss Daisy became such a surprise hit, “I wrote what I knew to be the truth, and people have recognized it as such…these were two people who came to love each other and had no means at all of telling each other.”

Interestingly, in the spring of 1987, director Farley was in the New York audience of the very first premiere of Driving Miss Daisy at Playwrights Horizons; he was a guest of the actress playing Daisy, Dana Ivey, an Atlanta native and daughter of Mary Nell Santacroce, whom Farley cast in the lead role for his Alliance production. A written interview with Farley about that memorable evening and his additional thoughts on the play and the Theatrical Outfit production appears on the theater’s website (

The stellar cast for this production, whom Farley calls “the cream of the crop,” include Jill Jane Clements as Daisy Werthan, Rob Cleveland as Hoke Coleburn and William S. Murphey as Boolie Werthan. Clements directed Theatrical Outfit’s fall production of A Lesson Before Dying and this winter appeared as Amanda in Southern Comforts at Georgia Ensemble Theatre (and at Theatrical Outfit last winter), as Mrs. Reeves in The Chase, Ima in The Immigrant, and Mama Lilly in Hank Williams, all at Theatrical Outfit; she received the 2007 Suzi Bass Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in Theatre in the Square’s production of Turned Funny. Rob Cleveland has appeared in over fifty professional stage productions around the country and is an associate artist with GA Shakespeare, whose Theatrical Outfit credits include: I’m Not Rappaport, The Complete Works of Wm. Shakespeare, Abridged, and Master Harold and the Boys; he was most recently seen in High John the Conqueror and African Folktales (Theatre in the Square), and his film credits include That Darn Cat and Drumline. William S. Murphey was in Theatrical Outfit’s productions of The God Committee, The Chase, and A Lesson Before Dying; additionally he has appeared at Theatre in the Square in Room Service, The Poetry of Pizza, and the one-man comedy Fully Committed (Jennie Award for Best Actor) and at Georgia Ensemble in Our Town, Season’s Greetings!, and Lying in State.

Tickets are $30. Preview performances are Wed., April 22 – Fri., April 24 at 7:30 pm, and opening night is Sat., April 25 at 7:30 pm. Performance times are Weds. through Sats. at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm; Saturday matinees are May 2 & 16 at 2:30 pm. Special performances include $10 Seniors matinee on Wed., May 13 at 2:30 pm; Student matinees on Weds., April 29 & May 6 at 11 am; Dinner Theater at City Grill ($45) on Thurs., May 7 at 5:00 pm; American Signed Language Performance on Sun., May 3 at 2:30 pm; Talkback with cast following the performance on Fri., May 8. Recommended for all ages.

Group discounts are available (call 678.528.1497) and $10 student tickets day of show, with student ID. Box office hours are noon to 6 pm Tues. through Fri. and prior to curtain; 678.528.1500; Show Sponsors are Kilpatrick Stockton, LLP and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Educational programming support is provided by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Coca-Cola Company.
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