Driving Miss Daisy, Driving My Thinking

In 2010, I was lucky enough to be part of a great production of DRIVING MISS DAISY at the Stirling Festival Theatre.  The director I hired, Andrew Lamb, is a friend of mine with whom I had worked previously, and I was very sure that he would bring great skills and a wonderful humanity to this sweet, touching and insightful play.

Boy, was I right.  And it wasn’t just Andrew.  It was our wonderful cast, and the technical people, and the admin staff of the company who all came together to produce a really great show.  Audiences loved it, and we loved it, and it’s going to live in my memory for a long time.  So when I heard that the Jewish Repertory Theatre company in Buffalo was doing DRIVING MISS DAISY, I thought for a little while about going to see it.  However, having seen a production at JRT a few months earlier, I decided to go.

I’m very glad I did.

It was different of course, as it should be, but different can be good, and it certainly can be insightful.  Given the setting – a small theatre in a large Jewish community centre – and the company’s mandate, what I have I seen mostly through the lens of black and white relationships and the civil rights movement, has a third side to it, which is life in the Jewish community of 20th century Atlanta Georgia.  Given that the playwright, Alfred Uhry, is writing about his own, Jewish, family’s life experiences in this play, that makes sense.  And in this production – I’m sure in part because of the setting – it came to brilliant life.

The most endearing thing in this play, to me, has always been the growth of the friendship between Miss Daisy and her reluctantly accepted chauffeur, Hoke.  I have often thought that this story could easily be re-told without colour or religious barriers and still be interesting but on a much more personal level.  Because the friendship has such heart and warmth, it could be about any two people who are completely different from each other and yet still somehow manage to find common cause and common interest.  Yet because these two particular people are who they are, living in the time and the place in which they do, there is more to the story than just the friendship.

And watching this play in a time when the president of the United States is an African American man, when the debate about direction of the US is framed in many hateful ways because of his colour, when we are all growing and changing the way we perceive each other – judging books not by their covers, if we can at all – provides even more voices in the debate we have, internally and with others, every day.

I love theatre that entertains me.  It’s the first thing I want from the $32 (or whatever) I pay for a ticket is to be entertained.  But I also want to think and be prodded and have conversations about what I’ve just seen.  The Jewish Repertory Theatre in Buffalo provides shows like that and I’m excited to see their next season.  Fortunately for those of us who love theatre, this is just one of nearly 2 dozen companies in the Queen City which entertains, educates, and invigorates.  My only regret is that I will never be able to see all the productions all the companies present. Sigh.

DRIVING MISS DAISY still has three more performances at the Jewish Repertory Theatre to Sunday afternoon. Call 716-688-4114 for tickets or info on the 2012-2013 season.



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