Photos courtesy Orillia Opera House
Contributor Andrew Wagner-Chazalon gives a tip of the hat to Orillia Opera House’s latest theatrical offering, Driving Miss Daisy
It doesn’t matter if you barely recall the movie or even know it started out as a play, when someone makes a reference to Driving Miss Daisy, you get it. It’s part of the cultural noise of the past few decades: just say two words of the title and everyone knows you’re saying something to do with a Black man driving a privileged white woman.
What a treat, then, to go back to the source material, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Alfred Uhry. And particularly to see it performed by a trio of superb actors, as it is in this mesmerizing production at the Orillia Opera House.
In a way it’s a shame that the title has become such cultural shorthand, because that obscure so very much about this amazing play. For starters, it’s not a play about civil rights. Or about anti-Semitism (our culture’s passing references often overlook the fact that Miss Daisy is Jewish). Those things are woven through the play, but they are the setting, not the focus.
Orillia’s Driving Miss Daisy is Spot On….
No, this is a play that resists easy thematic pigeon-holing. It’s about aging, and gaining and losing autonomy. It’s about power dynamics and family tensions. And above all, it’s about the joy of finding, and building, friendships.
It explores all of those themes in a tightly written script that is alternately funny and gripping and doesn’t contain a single wasted word. As director Jesse Collins has said, there’s a reason plays win a Pulitzer. (Uhry also won an Academy Award for the screenplay version.)
To do justice to this material, Collins has assembled a stellar cast. Cassel Miles is a veteran of Shaw and Stratford, won a Dora award nomination for his role in Angels in America, and has earned acclaim in roles at the Royal Alexandra (Crazy for You) and in the US national tour of Fosse. He is fabulous as Hoke Coleburn, a Black man in his late fifties who is hired to drive for Boolie Werthan’s mother, Daisy.
Rock Solid Performances
The play is set in Atlanta in the state of Georgia, opening in 1948. Daisy, who is in her mid-seventies, has had a car accident and can no longer get insurance. She doesn’t want to have a driver and makes no secret of it.
Stuart Dowling is rock solid as Boolie, the dutiful son who loves his mother even as he is by turns mystified and exasperated by her. He’s a veteran performer who is a favourite among Orillia audiences – he was last seen here in Murder at the Howard Johnson’s.
Linda Goranson plays Daisy. Her lengthy career has included countless roles across the country and beyond, including starring in an Oscar-nominated short film. This is her first appearance in Orillia since 2017’s Barefoot in the Park, and she is absolutely magnificent.
Dynamic Acting in Driving Miss Daisy
The dynamic between these three actors is fabulous, and none of them wastes a moment of this taught script. The action unfolds over 25 years, and Goranson and Miles in particular age superbly before our eyes. The transformations in their physical appearance and also in their relationships are gradual, yet sure. We’ve all had those moments of looking at an old friend or relative and suddenly realizing that they’ve changed, even though we never noticed it: this cast manages to convey exactly that feeling several times in a ninety-minute play.
This is Miles’ first appearance in Orillia, but it won’t be his last. Opera House audiences will get to enjoy another performance by him on October 14, when he brings his one-man show JOSIAH – the true story of the man who inspired Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Collins has said when he saw JOSIAH, he knew exactly who he wanted to cast as Hoke Coleburn.)
That show is certainly something to look forward to, but in the meantime, get to the Opera House. Driving Miss Daisywill have you laughing one moment, gripped by the tension the next, and thinking for days afterward. This is a production not to be missed.
For further details and tickets, visit www.orilliaoperahouse.ca/en/index.aspx.
Riley Recommends: Why not make the most of your visit to the Orillia Opera House by splurging on a great meal out? Located directly across the road, The Common Stove is undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in Orillia. Better still, plan to stay overnight at one of the top hotels in Orillia to make the most of your time in this rapidly evolving city.
Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is the managing editor and CEO of Dockside Publishing, and writes about the luxuries to be found in Muskoka and throughout Central Ontario.
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