McPherson Shines In 'Driving Miss Daisy'

By: Ellen Chahey

Ron Williams as Hoke and Karen McPherson, both Chatham residents currently in DRIVING MISS DAISY at the Barnstable Comedy Club.  Josh Simons photo

It’s a star turn for Chatham’s Karen McPherson as she reprises her favorite role—the title role—in the 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning play “Driving Miss Daisy” by Alfred Uhry. This time, it’s at the Barnstable Comedy Club, on Route 6A in Barnstable Village, and it’s playing through Jan. 26.

McPherson first played Daisy Werthan in 2011 at the Academy of Performing Arts in Orleans, and it’s obvious she’s not tired of the feisty character. In the Barnstable production, she takes the stage with Ron Williams (who also lives in Chatham) as the driver Hoke Coleburn, and with James Ring of Barnstable Village as Daisy’s son Boolie. The three, who were ably directed by Ann M. Ring, share a camaraderie as actors that lets them portray the tensions that sometimes play out among their characters.

The play consists of two acts’ worth of blackouts­—skits, you could say—which take Miss Daisy from the age of 72 in 1948, just after she’s had a spectacular car wreck, and her son has to convince her she needs a driver, until 1973, when she’s in her 90s.

I’ve never seen an actor have to make as many costume changes as McPherson. She uses them, as well as skilled body language, to age her character. And with so many short scenes, there were lots of lighting changes too, designed by Geof Newton; technician Vicki Marchant never missed a cue in illuminating or darkening three separate sets on the stage (designed by her husband, Dennis). There’s also a wide-ranging, ambitious playlist of music while the stage is blacked out, although I didn’t see a credit for sound in the program.

According to Comedy Club publicity, “The play was inspired by Alfred Uhry’s grandmother, Lena Fox, her chauffeur, Will Coleman, and his father. His grandmother, a Jewish woman who lived in Atlanta during the 1960s, had to give up driving after a car accident, and hired Coleman, who drove her for 25 years.”

“Miss Daisy” is one of three plays, along with “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” and “Parade,” that Uhry wrote about Atlanta in the 20th century. He incorporates the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, the 1939 premiere of “Gone With the Wind,” a bombing of a temple in 1958, and a 1964 dinner to celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize.

According to information from the Comedy Club, Uhry is the only American writer to win a Pulitzer, Oscar, and Tony. The Oscar was for his film adaptation of “Daisy.”

McPherson has been performing on Cape Cod since 1996, including recently at the Chatham Drama Guild as Grandmama in “The Addams Family.” Her bio is “Too Old for Juliet, But She Played the Nurse.”

Williams works with special needs children and adults, teaches guitar and voice, and performs at local businesses and private functions.

James Ring, according to the Comedy Club, “spent the majority of his youth doing summer theater in Harwich at the HJT,” and has been a lawyer in Boston.

Together, they act out the tale of people affected by anti-Semitism and racism and the inevitable effects of age. And yes, there is unexpected friendship, too. This play is by turns funny, tender, sometimes painful. After each short scene, the audience applauded, and when the play ended, they rose to their feet to thank the cast and crew for an evening of excellent theater.

If you’ve never been to the Barnstable Comedy Club, take a ride down 6A. The theater has a light refreshment stand and is near several good restaurants and beautiful Millway Beach. Later in the season the club plans to offer “A Shot in the Dark” by Marcel Archard (adapted by Harry Kurnitz), described as “a fun ‘who dunnit’,” during March, and then “Sandy Toes and Salty Kisses” by Michael Parker and Susan Parker in May.

 

DETAILS:

“Driving Miss Daisy”

At the Barnstable Comedy Club, 3171 Main St. (Route 6A), Barnstable

Through Jan. 26

Information and reservations: 508-362-6333, www.BarnstableComedyClub.org