- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

''Driving Miss Daisy" is your father's Oldsmobilesolid, dependable, and roomy.

Not that that's a bad thing. On the contrary, Alfred Uhry's tender comedy about 25 years of change in the South takes us on a comfortable ride through civil rights, racism, aging, and anti-Jewish sentiment.

Although it deals with a slow-dawning friendship between a black chauffeur Hoke Coleburn (Keith N. Johnson) and Miss Daisy (Halo Wines), the vastly opinionated Jewish matron he ferries about, there is nothing mawkish or Hallmark card-ish about the play.

Sentimentalism is nowhere to be found in director Thomas W. Jones II's brisk, no-nonsense production at Olney. Mr. Jones keeps things moving and never lets anyone or anything linger into cloying sweetness. In fact, there is almost a dance rhythm to his staging of "Daisy." In an early scene Miss Wines waltzes with attitude to the ditty "After the Ball Is Over" in an effort to get her doting son Boolie (David Marks) to just leave her alone for awhile. Hoke first comes on stage stepping lively, almost like an old song-and-dance man, ostensibly to prove his vigor so that Boolie will hire him as his mother's driver. In fact, Boolie too, seems to move to a private beat as the years pass from postwar bop through '50s and '60s rock and roll.

This overall jauntiness invigorates "Driving Miss Daisy," making the play move as smoothly as a Cadillac on the open road. Not that it is without a few bumps. Miss Daisy, a fiercely proud woman, is not exactly bowled over by the fact that she must give up her driving and her car-banging ways at the age of 72. Wait a minute, she fights it tooth and nail, taking longer than it took God to create the world to acknowledge Hoke's presence.

Miss Daisy is made of stern stuff and she is well-matched with Hoke, who is also strong-willed and nobody's fool. After the initial wariness, their civil sparring contains some of the juiciest, funniest lines in the play. They settle into an amiable arrangement that turns subtly, wisely, into a fine friendship. The best part about their friendship is their unspoken affection and dependence on each other like the loveliest of relationships, it is marked by compatible silences.

Mr. Jones' rigor extends to the acting, which is the closest to a dream cast as you are going to get. Miss Wines' immaculate timing and no-nonsense demeanor shines as Miss Daisy, the farthest thing from a compliant old lady. Miss Wines shows her rage against the dying of the light, and Miss Daisy's kindness and integrity as well.

Similarly, Mr. Johnson brings great dignity and warmth to Hoke in a role that could be reminiscent of an "Amos and Andy" re-run in the wrong hands. Mr. Johnson plays Hoke as a hired driver after all, this is Atlanta in the '50s and '60s without Hoke being a servant. Hoke is an equal, a man of depth and experience.

The role of Boolie often takes a back seat to the friendship between Hoke and Miss Daisy, but Mr. Marks adds a great intelligence to his scenes, imbuing them with an honest love for his mother tempered with the knowledge that she is a hellion he prefers to use the term "high strung." This production of "Driving Miss Daisy" yields no shocking surprises or provocations. Instead, it takes us on a steady journey through an unlikely friendship that blossoms during a time when the American landscape was changing and there was no turning back.


WHAT: "Driving Miss Daisy" by Alfred Uhry

WHEN: Sundays and Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees, 2 p.m., through Nov. 3

WHERE: Olney Theatre Center for the Arts, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road., Olney, Md.

TICKETS: $15-$35

PHONE: (301) 924-3400


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