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Review: Driving Miss Daisy at Mockingbird On Main

Do not expect a live action rendition of Alfred Fox Uhry’s screenplay for the 1989 Oscar winning film, Driving Miss Daisy. Instead, prepare yourself for The Mockingbird on Main ’s current production of Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize winning stage script of the same name.

Both tell the touching story of a wealthy Atlanta widow whose son insists she accept his provision of a chauffeur after she totals her car by crashing into a neighbor’s garage, but the film version is an expansion upon the stage script. Atlanta native Uhry actually based this work on his own grandmother, Lena Fox, and her chauffeur, Will Coleman; Driving Miss Daisy is actually the first play in what is known as Uhry’s Atlanta trilogy, the other two being The Last Night in Ballyhoo, and Tony award winning Parade.

At first, Miss Daisy stubbornly refuses to accept, Hoke Coleburn, a black man, driving her around and is obsessive about any appearance that she be perceived to be rich – which, of course, is exactly how Hoke, just coming off an extended period of unemployment, sees her. However, over the course of 25 years Daisy eventually sheds her prejudices, teaches the sometimes inexplicably loyal Hoke to read, and comes to recognize Hoke as her best friend.

Director Jeremy Littlejohn has actually helmed this play five times over his 25-year theatre career and his experience with the script shows. He has assembled a great cast that brings in a heart-warming production.

Taking on the iconic role of Miss Daisy is the extremely talented Rachelle Walljasper. She delivers a nuance and subtlety to the role that is a delight to watch as she morphs from uptight Southern matron to unfeigned appreciation of the man who has been so patient with her transformation.

Joseph Obleton as the humble Hoke completely captures the essence of this character but delivers his lines with frustrating hesitancy which, to me, gave the appearance he was not really solid on his lines and it impacted the pacing of the show.

Recent Augustana College graduate, Bradley Heinrichs, skillfully snags Daisy’s son, Boolie’s, exasperation with, and affection for, his somewhat challenging mother that likely all adult children experience with their parents at some point. I could certainly see MY son in his portrayal. By the way, I’m the same age as Miss Daisy at the outset of the play.

Compliments go out to all three actors for their impressive and totally natural southern accents and massive kudos to Set Designer, Savannah Bay Strandin, for the extremely efficient and creative use of space on this miniscule stage within a venue that can only accommodate about 35 seats.

There is one jarring anomaly in this production. At the onset 72-year old Daisy appears in an age and style appropriate silver-haired wig. In the last scenes, the now 92-year old, about to enter a nursing home, appears with disheveled but obviously blonde hair, destroying the allusion of the advance in her age.

Another anomaly that I have noticed in this and other venues is capitulation to modern appearance. In this instance, Boolie has a scruffy beard. In 1972 – especially in the South, this was SO not acceptable. Boolie should have been clean shaven. Hair grows back so that is not a great sacrifice for an actor to make.

That aside, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, well performed show. So much so that I, for one, would like to see the remaining two plays in the trilogy produced, if not by Mockingbird then by another Quad City venue.

Driving Miss Daisy continues at The Mockingbird at Main, 320 North Main Street in Davenport – that’s the building right behind Me & Billy – Friday and Saturday, February 24 and 25, at 8:00pm.