‘Daisy’ a nice fit for Music Theatre of Connecticut

Alfred Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy” was a staple of just about every regional theatre back in the late 1980s. With its small cast, easy set and 90 minute running time, it became a producer’s dream. It has the weight of the Pulitzer Prize and the Best Picture” Academy Award in its history and is a mostly beloved comic drama that is as comforting as warm oatmeal on a cold winter’s day. So it’s nice to welcome back this gentle comedy as the first non-musical produced by the Music Theatre of Connecticut in their lovely new theatre space in Norwalk.

Set in Atlanta, Georgia and covering the years from 1948 to 1973, “Driving Miss Daisy” concerns wealthy Jewish widow Daisy Werthan (Rebecca Hoodwin) who, as the play opens, has just lost her drivers license after one too many accidents. Her concerned son, Boolie (an excellent Mike Boland), insists on hiring a “colored man” to chauffeur her about town much to Daisy’s extreme displeasure. Hoke Coleburn (Lorezno Scott) is the man hired and the rest of the play details the growing relationship between the stubborn Daisy and the endlessly patient Hoke. It also covers the period of the Civil Rights movement and the affect it has on two outsiders like Daisy and Hoke. Uhry manages to pack a lot into his one-act play without ever seeming excessive.

Rebecca Hoodwin brings a welcome starch and vinegar to her Daisy, a role that can easily fall into sentimental goo if not approached with a spine of steel. Her opening confrontation with Boland begins with energy and purpose and the two actors prove a strong match for each other throughout. More disappointing was the low-key Hoke of Mr. Scott. The actor has a warm and intelligent onstage demeanor, but his speaking voice is so soft that a major part of his dialogue was lost even in this intimate setting. This was especially noticeable during Hoke’s cruel memory about a childhood incident of racial prejudice that, as delivered by the actor, became inaudible beyond the first row. One waits for the moments in the play when the character asserts himself and Scott naturally increases his volume. Those times were far and few between, unfortunately.

Director Kevin Connors has created some odd staging choices for the production beginning with the placement of the car which finds Daisy blocked from a good portion of the audience. He also allows far too much scenery (David Heuvelman is credited with the set) in a play where simplicity should be the norm. Boolie’s office, for one, is mostly unnecessary taking up needed space in the intimate setting. By its final scene, which seemed rushed and almost incidental as directed here, Daisy and Hoke are crammed together at a small upstage table amidst all the other debris left onstage.

“Driving Miss Daisy” remains an audience-pleaser, however, even in serviceable productions and with Hoodwin and Boland holding up their end, the play still makes for a pleasant evening’s entertainment in Norwalk.

“Driving Miss Daisy” continues at the Music Theatre of Connecticut through February 22. For further information and ticket reservations call 203.454.3883 or visit: www.musictheatreofct.com.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.