by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & lfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy is better than the production it's getting at Interplayers (through Feb. 3). Director Maynard Villers allows too many important moments to wither instead of resonate, and he slows the evening down with way too many between-scene blackouts.
Despite some less-than-ideal performance decisions, however, the play still feels worth revisiting in performance. Tony Caprile, for example, has easygoing charm in the thankless third-wheel role of Daisy's son Boolie. The Southern accent wobbles at times, but Caprile pulls off a mixture of emotional contradictions, making Boolie a bit condescending to his elderly mother but still clearly full of affection for her. Even though Boolie was raised amid racism, Caprile makes it clear in his biggest speech that prejudice might seem, to his character and in a city like Atlanta, simply like the most sensible way to conduct business.
In this friendship-of-opposites play, Villers gets uneven but often effective moments from Alice Kennedy in the title role and from Clarence Forech as her chauffeur Hoke.
In an initial interview scene, Forech slows the pace: Needing to impress both his potential employer (Boolie) and us, Forech isn't clever enough. But his Hoke improves steadily from then on. Forech has a habit of dipping his chin for the early part of a line and then edging it slightly upward for the conclusion -- a nice visual equivalent of Hoke's tendency to act deferential while setting up appeals for what is his by right. His repeated insistence on being treated with dignity, as a result, comes off as less strident -- not as a demand for racial equality but as simple fact.
Kennedy, meanwhile, has a knack for butting into conversations with a quick wisecrack. In her performance the frugality and desire for privacy in Daisy's character come across more clearly than I'd remembered. While Kennedy is more successful at conveying Daisy's aloofness than her vulnerability, she's not forceful vocally -- which undercuts her ability to seem commanding and aristocratic. In the cemetery scene and some of the little speeches of self-revelation, however, Kennedy overdoes the stern exterior. There's a widow and a former schoolteacher inside there; she admired her husband and wanted to help her students, and we need to see more of that love and longing.
In a scene when it becomes clear that the working-class black man and the wealthy Jewish matron are both victims of ugly prejudice, Kennedy -- with her eyes downcast, hands clutching her purse, a look of pain darkening her face -- certainly looks the part of someone who's just been struck with a sickening realization. But when Hoke recalls some horrific details from his childhood, the dialogue isn't given its proper weight. Forech rushes into a reassuring "Go ahead and cry now" to Miss Daisy before audience members have time to realize that maybe they should start crying too. Sitting there in the car, Kennedy looks devastated; Forech looks stoic. But the dialogue rushes by and the moment gets plowed under.
Too many moments feel rushed in this show; unfortunately, there are other miscues as well. A very poorly punctuated first-act curtain line had playgoers audibly reassuring one another that, yes, those lights were coming up because it was intermission and no, we didn't really get that last part, either. The flimsiness of the backdrop called attention to itself. Realistic sound cues cut out abruptly, unrealistically.
Worst of all were the blackouts. They're energy-suckers. The cumulative effect of so many waits between scenes is to make an otherwise brief evening (just over an hour and a half, including intermission) seem plodding and drawn-out.
In contrast, the segue into the final scene demonstrated the kind of split-camera effect that theater can make happen (and which director Villers too often neglected). As her son and her chauffeur discuss her affectionately, Kennedy slowly and painfully made her way down Interplayers' long thrust stage, becoming the visualization of what the two men were talking about. By that point, Daisy couldn't live much longer, and everyone in the theater -- characters and playgoers alike -- knew it. Theater can create that kind of double focus and double consciousness, if you let it. But it can't accomplish much at all when the lights are fully down and audience members are coughing and rustling their programs.
Despite the flaws in the Interplayers production, Uhry's final scene still has emotional impact. By then, both Daisy and Hoke are slowed by age, and it's a time-consuming trial simply to adjust a table or serve some food. The bodies may be wrinkled, but the spirits still shine bright. In a similar way, good scripts have a way of overcoming lackluster productions.
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