Theatre review: Driving Miss Daisy embraces its sentimentality

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Nicola Lipman and John Campbell in a scene from the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Driving Miss Daisy. Photo by David Cooper.

Driving Miss Daisy may be a sweet story of unlikely friendship, but the Arts Club Theatre Company production moves so slowly that it feels as if we’re sitting in the backseat of the Werthan family Packard.

Even for those that have never seen the Jessica Tandy/Morgan Freeman Oscar winning 1989 film, the play’s plot is telegraphed from the start which does nothing to help.  We know exactly what the story will be about as soon as Miss Daisy and her and new driver Hoke have their first uncomfortable encounter.  The play moves slowly through the 25 years of the rocky road that they travel together, but it becomes repetitive and there are certainly no surprises around any of its corners.

Even the themes playwright Alfred Uhry explores are tired and while this production embraces the story’s simple sentimentality, it isn’t enough to sustain.

Nicola Lipman and John Campbell in a scene from the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Driving Miss Daisy. Photo by David Cooper.

Nicola Lipman and John Campbell in a scene from the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Driving Miss Daisy. Photo by David Cooper.

Nicola Lipman as Miss Daisy tries desperately to breathe life into Uhry’s sedentary central character, but as she ages her tempo, like the show, becomes tedious.  As the driver Hoke, John Campbell’s odd phrasing had me wondering if the fact he cannot read also meant there was some mental incapacity, but that portrayal doesn’t fit with the character at all.  I longed for the nuances of Tandy and Freeman in the superior film version.  Brian Linds is a breath of fresh air each time he walks onto stage as the exasperated son Boolie, but again his presence is not enough.

Ted Roberts creates a wonderful representation of the inside of Daisy Werthan’s family home, but Boolie’s office, which is equally as realized, is wholly disproportionate to its use.  Given so much of the story takes place inside the family car, the vehicles that Hoke drives are simply represented by a bench and some chairs.  As an audience we are willing to suspend belief (after all trying to place a realistic car on stage is near impossible), but the car scenes render the other set pieces just oddities in this context.

Given we’re already expected to accept the bench and chairs as a car, the use of Briand Linds’ sound effects for the car seem almost as unnecessary as much of Roberts’ set.

First The Odd Couple and now Driving Miss Daisy, let’s hope for bigger things as the Arts Club concludes its 50th season with a couple of shows that appear to be willing to take some risks.

2 1/2 of 5 StarsDriving Miss Daisy

By Alfred Uhry.  Directed by Mario Crudo.  On stage at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage through March 15, 2014.  Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.

Mark Robins on Google+

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