Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Plaza Theatre: Driving Miss Daisy (4 reviews)

The Plaza Theatre opened its production of Driving Miss Daisy on October 18, 2012.
A 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play, DRIVING MISS DAISY affectionately covers the 25-year relationship between a wealthy, strong-willed Southern Jewish matron Daisy Werthan, and her equally indomitable African-American chauffeur Hoke Coleburn. This heartfelt story transcends the boundaries between them with its sparkling humor, honesty and dignity. This quietly powerful American classic has touched the hearts of millions.  A long-run Off-Broadway success and an Academy Award-winning film.
Michael Leeds directed a cast that featured John Archie, Harriet Oser, and Ken Clement.

Jan Sjostrom reviewed for The Palm Beach Daily News:
Alfred Uhry’s one-act classic play isn’t tough material, but it requires delicacy and exquisite comic timing. This Michael Leeds-helmed production delivers on all counts.
Harriet Oser embodies fierce independence and stubborn pride as Daisy Werthan, who resists son Boolie’s decision to hire Hoke Coleburn as her chauffeur after she totals her car.
John Archie overplays Hoke’s subservience, but fortunately retains enough dignity for the character to command our respect. Ken Clement’s affable Boolie ably serves as catalyst and buffer between the two contenders. All three performers land Uhry’s dagger-sharp one-liners with precision.
Paul Thomas’ set design efficiently establishes the world of Daisy’s home, the car and Boolie’s office on the theater’s small stage. Jerry Sturdefant attires Daisy in a fetching succession of period dresses.
Hap Erstein committed a meta-review for Palm Beach Artspaper (you may need to scroll down):
Like the Maltz, Manalapan’s Plaza Theatre usually sticks to musicals, often low-concept revues. But it too is launching its season with a play, the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic drama, Driving Miss Daisy, a step up from its usual fare that can only help the new company’s reputation.
The Plaza has attracted first-rate talent for this production, starting with Michael Leeds, one of the most reliable freelance directors in the region. He, in turn, has brought in an impressive cast, particularly John Archie in the pivotal role of Hoke, plus a touching Harriet Oser in the title role and Ken Clement ― the self-described “luckiest son-of-a-bitch he knows” ― as Boolie.
As Hoke, Archie radiates dignity... Oser adds Daisy to her gallery of roles of women of a certain age, initially cantankerous, but over the arc of the play, the character is left frail and disoriented and Oser manages the transitions along the way deftly. And Clement takes the often two-dimensional, thankless role of Boolie and makes us care about him and his efforts to become parental towards his mother.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The most affecting moments in the Plaza Theatre’s solid, entertaining production of the venerable Driving Miss Daisy are the fleeting grace notes that have no dialogue, moments that result from being in the capable hands of old pros.
That’s not to say that this edition is the deeply moving comedy-drama that Alfred Uhry’s warhorse can be, but when you’ve got first-rate talent such as actors Harriet Oser, John Archie and Ken Clement led by the experienced director Michael Leeds, you’re pretty much guaranteed a production that delivers all the charm and chuckles if it never quite reaches the category of magical.
Leeds has done a commendable workmanlike job moving the story along and guided the pros in discovering their performances. Besides the aforementioned grace notes, the moments that work best are when the protagonists’ true feelings peek uncontrollably through the roles that society has dictated for them: Daisy’s unguarded joy when Daisy gives Hoke one of her fifth-grade textbooks to help him learn to read and he sounds out the title, or Hoke’s sly smile when he negotiates a raise from Boolie by leveraging a job offer from another family.
Archie has been a mainstay of the region’s acting core... His Hoke echoes those roles with that high scratchy voice and – in this case—an era-appropriate if unnerving attitude that sounds like smart-enough-to-sound-subservient Eddie “Rochester” Anderson in the old Jack Benny show. Archie carefully walks that line of a 1950s minority who must “know his place” to avoid a lynching, yet who nurtures a pride that can be violated only so often and so far. Archie closes off more than a few scenes with a dry, droll Stepin Fetchit  “Yes’m” that barely conceals a verbal middle finger.

Oser’s portraits hanging in the gallery of theatergoer’s memories are finely-detailed trompe l’oeil paintings that look like reality but are carefully crafted creations...  Oser sidesteps all the potential pitfalls for a stereotypical performance, starting with an energy and spirit that delivers Daisy’s flintiness and pride. She also excels at portraying Daisy’s gradual aging and the encroaching infirmities. The Plaza’s senior audience will likely be unnerved by Oser’s sole emotional outbreak when Daisy’s mind first cracks.
...Clement never gives a half-performance and he has an unheralded talent that many, many actors lack for quietly inhabiting secondary characters so that they have a full-fledged persona rather than simply serve as a plot device...
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

South Florida has its own revival of Driving Miss Daisy, and this one is also powered by fine acting. The Plaza Theatre in Manalapan, which has brought the former Florida Stage space back to life, has thus far concentrated on musical revues. But for this foray into Miss Daisy’s funny, poignant world, producer Alan Jacobson has hired three strong actors and director Michael Leeds, all of them pros who know how to deliver all the emotional colors of Uhry’s play.
Leeds draws strong, engaging work from all three actors, each of whom is among the region’s best performers.
The slender, elegant Oser... barks orders to Hoke and lets both him and Boolie know that she’s going to keep pushing back against the turn her life has taken. Yet Oser also communicates the fear Daisy feels as control slips away.
Archie makes Hoke a warm man whose sense of humor and thick skin allow him to shrug off most of Daisy’s demanding ways. His sharing of past trauma becomes one of the production’s most memorable moments, and his final scene with Oser is one of bittersweet tenderness. As Boolie, Clement makes it clear that despite Daisy’s bristling manner, her son genuinely loves her and will always make sure she is cared for.
Driving Miss Daisy play at The Plaza Theatre through November 18, 2012.

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