Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
A recent Australian production featuring Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones was filmed for PBS' Great Performances series, but I did not find the actors to be exactly right for their roles. This production is brilliantly cast, and is traveling intact to Peterborough Players in New Hampshire in late June and July. Carolyn Michel is one of my favorite actresses, usually assigned to play ditsy dames, and I am very thankful for the opportunity to see her in a role worthy of her great talents. She captures every emotional facet of Daisy Werthan, at every age from 72 at the beginning to 90s at the end. In the storm scene, when she goes to dial the rotary phone, there is a tentativeness in her hand movements that had not been there in previous scenes, a telling detail. Taurean Blacque returns to WBTT after a sensational performance two years ago in The Whipping Man. He captures Hoke, reticent to show his inner self to the white world, but a ramrod of dignity inside. Kraig Swartz manages to hold his own, quite a feat surrounded by two brilliant actors in showier parts as Daisy's son Boolie, nicely conveying the changes in his character as the years pass on. His is a performance of great warmth as he balances Boolie's relationships with his mother and Hoke.
Howard Millman has done everything a great director should, helping his cast give great performances and keeping the production in crystal clear focus. Cristy Owen's costume designs are superb. Daisy wears a single dress throughout the entire show, up until the very last scene in the nursing home, but changing accessories perfectly delineate the various times and places. Hoke is almost always seen in his chauffeur's uniform, but minor changes occur when appropriate. Boolie sports a whole wardrobe of mostly unfashionable outfits, perfectly in keeping with his character. Scenic design by Rick Cannon is fairly minimal, just right for this play. Lighting design by Jim Sale is effective. Michelle Hart, who usually plies her brilliant craft at Asolo Rep, has designed a series of wigs for Daisy that are a big step up from what is usually seen at WBTT. Someday I hope to get to meet the immensely gifted Ms. Hart to talk about how she does what she does. All of the WBTT regulars are in their accustomed places doing their usual magnificent job: property master Annette Breazeale, production manager James E. Dodge II, and production stage manager Juanita Munford.
If you decide to schedule an oft seen play, make sure that the production is a perfect one, which WBTT provides. Best wishes to all for the trip to New Hampshire.
Driving Miss Daisy, presented by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, through May 28, 2016, at 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. For more information, visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):
Director: Howard Millman^