Academy's 'Driving Miss Daisy' Gets Better With Age

By: Ellen Petry Whalen

Topics: Local Theater

Rob Langhorn and Karen McPherson in “Driving Miss Daisy.” MICHAEL AND SUZ KARCHMER PHOTO

The Academy of Performing Arts’ third reprisal of “Driving Miss Daisy” is a heartwarming period drama, rich with layers about discrimination, aging, the American South, and most of all friendship.

American playwright Alfred Uhry immortalized his strong-willed grandmother, Lena Fox, in the role of Miss Daisy. The play won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was turned into a 1989 film, starring an all-star cast including Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, and Dan Aykroyd. All three actors were nominated for Academy Awards, with Tandy winning Best Actress and the movie earning Best Picture.

Set in Atlanta, the drama spans a dynamic period of American history, following the undercurrents of change, between 1948 and 1973. A 72-year-old widowed Miss Daisy (Karen McPherson) recently totaled her car. Her son, Boolie (Geof Newton), gently insists his fiercely independent mother can no longer drive a car. Against her will, Boolie hires the even-tempered and genial 60-year-old African-American Hoke Colburn (Rob Langhorne) as her chauffeur.

On the surface, the two appear to have nothing in common — between racial differences, class division, and educational disparities. However, as time softens the feisty Miss Daisy and the respectful Hoke finally finds his voice, it becomes obvious the two are bonded together in many unexpected ways. Not only did they both grow up poor, but Miss Daisy is a minority as a Jew, especially in the heavily Christian South, while Hoke faces blatant discrimination, with “whites-only” signs posted everywhere. Even though he’s illiterate, Hoke cleverly expands the former schoolteacher’s views and rigid routines. Expressed through a series of short vignettes serving as an intimate window into their lives, the two characters develop a deep friendship that ultimately knows no divisions.

For the third time, both McPherson and Langhorne are reprising their roles together as the unlikely pair. The two artfully age before the audience’s eyes, with a convincing change in gait and stature. They have a spectacular chemistry on stage — naturally responding to the other’s actions with subtleties that add a believable depth and richness to the story.

McPherson plays up her character’s backseat-driver nature that is maintained even when she isn’t being chauffeured. From her eye rolls and disapproving looks to her highly animated and perfectly enunciated words, she makes it clear she is the matron of the family.

Langhorne is pure magic on stage. His Hoke is respectively agreeable yet extremely dignified and gentile, even when uttering his expected “Yessum” to every demand.

Newton (who is also assistant director) has a nice Southern drawl as Boolie, and even though his character is secondary as the loyal son, he brings nuance to the role with his managed patience and nervous energy, especially when softly insisting, “Don’t start, Momma.”

Director Peter Earle maximizes the laughs in the show, highlighting Miss Daisy’s stubbornness and sharp tongue, much to the audience’s delight. The set is simple yet effective, with two benches serving as the car, a wingback chair suggestive of Miss Daisy’s living room, and a desk for Boolie’s office.

Like the character Miss Daisy, the Academy’s third reprisal of this classic slice of Americana has only gotten better with age.


“Driving Miss Daisy”
At the Academy of Performing Arts, Orleans
Through Feb. 19
Information and reservations: 508-255-1963