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REVIEW: On Driving Miss Daisy (Happy for That Theatre)

Mary Kay Fortier Spalding as Daisy, Eric Wood as Hoke, and Dann Peterson as Boolie in Happy for That Theatre’s production of Driving Miss Daisy.

Happy for That Theatre’s production of Driving Miss Daisy is a straightforward piece of theatre. It is interesting, often humorous, and strongly delivered with its simple staging.

The basic setup of this play is that an elderly white Southern lady, Daisy (Mary Kay Fortier Spalding) is forced to use an African American chauffeur, Hoke (Eric Wood), after age catches up with her driving abilities. Most of the play consists of vignettes between the crotchety Daisy and Hoke, with occasional appearances by Daisy’s son Boolie (Dann Peterson). The multi-decade story tracks the evolution of their relationship across a period of sweeping social changes in the United States, including the advent of the Civil Rights Movement, and into the trials of dementia.

Director George Spalding has chosen to stage the play exclusively in the downstage areas of the Ives Auditorium, without amplification. This is a shrewd choice for these veteran actors: their unamplified voices could be heard clearly throughout the theatre, with a full range of inflection and shading that contributed to the piece’s intimacy.

Playwrights are often shallow when depicting older men and women, but Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning script is the exception. Spalding is picture-perfect in her portrayal of Daisy struggling to maintain dignity and control over the decades, even while being forced to (reluctantly) change with the times. Wood plays a great foil to her Daisy, with small facial twitches that say volumes as he responds patiently to Daisy’s latest odd instructions. Peterson has much less to say on stage, but makes a good exasperated soul; in his major monologue near the end of the play, he shows what he can do with some material to sink his teeth into.

Driving Miss Daisy bears no major surprises: it is simply a straightforward, interesting, and entertaining two hours of theatre, well-acted and well-delivered.

Driving Miss Daisy plays through Sunday, Oct. 21 at the Ives Auditorium at the Masonic Heritage Center in Bloomington, MN.

Basil Considine