Curtain Up: A Stylish ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ at Laguna Playhouse

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Michael Learned and Lance Nichols in “Driving Miss Daisy”

Affable, affectionate and charming, the 1988 play “Driving Miss Daisy” by American playwright Alfred Uhry, about the relationship of an elderly white Southern Jewish woman (Daisy) and her African-American chauffeur (Hoke) is one of those character-driving plays that requires actors who know how to bring the right balance of lightness and drama to their roles.

The Laguna Playhouse has found those actors.

Four-time Emmy winner Michael Learned (“The Waltons”) and Lance E. Nichols (HBO’s “Treme”) star in “Driving Miss Daisy,” which earned playwright Uhry a Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

The show is on stage now through Jan. 27 at the Laguna theater.

The story about the decades-long relationship between a strong-willed, well-to-do Jewish woman and her black chauffeur in the Jim Crow south was not exactly groundbreaking, but it did illuminate historic issues that continue to permeate American society.

Michael Learned in “Driving Miss Daisy”

Set against a backdrop of changing world events between the late 1940s and early 1970s, including references to attending an event featuring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., what begins as a troubled and hostile pairing between Daisy, who fears losing her independence by having someone drive her around, and Hoke, whose good-natured jousting is the right temperament for his passenger, blossoms into a life-altering friendship that transcends societal boundaries.

“Driving Miss Daisy” is the first play in Uhry’s Atlanta Trilogy (the others are “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” and “Parade”) and the most amiable.

Michael Learned brings the right balance of forcefulness and Southern charm to Daisy, a character that ages 25 years by the end of the play. Daisy can be crotchety and headstrong but also tender, and Learned hits all the right notes.

Michael Learned, Lance Nichols and David Nevell in “Driving Miss Daisy”

So too does Nichols, who plays Hoke with a combination of amusement and affability tempered by the frustration of knowing the societal norms of the day. 

David Nevell, whom Laguna Playhouse audiences will recognize from the productions of “Twelve Angry Men” and “The Odd Couple,” plays Daisy’s son, Boolie, who acts almost as a go-between for Daisy and Hoke, and has his own larger-than-life Southern charm.

The simple set and subtle lighting work perfect to set the scene, and a stool and bench placed center stage easily conjure up a variety of automobiles.  

This gentle dramedy offers many moments of mirth and enough pathos to make “Driving Miss Daisy” a satisfying ride.

For tickets, visit LagunaPlayhouse.com.

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