As Murfreesboro continues to expand, so does the range and frequency of its artistic ventures. The Center for the Arts continues to offer authentic community theater, and its recent production of Driving Miss Daisy was no exception. This sweet little show, directed by plucky youth Anderson Dodd, (who moved furniture around onstage between scenes with astonishing grace) is clearly a work from the heart.
Most people are familiar with the iconic film version that stars Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy. And as with the ubiquitous Steel Magnolias, Southern theaters want to promote Southern theatre. There are challenges in taking on such well-known shows. It takes courage to continue to play what might be considered “played-out.” (Like when someone besides Yul Brynner plays the King in The King and I, capicé?)
Kudos to this swell little cast and fine young director for giving it their all. As the play opens, the charming and historically accurate set gently beckons. Here we meet Miss Daisy Werthan, an aging and irritable widow whose reckless driving has reached critical mass in her son Doolie’s opinion. Miss Daisy, as played by Francine Berk, captures the irritation and stubborn decline of a proud and able woman. The cadence and accent of her Georgia Jewess is spot-on. As southern Jews in 1948, she and her all-business son Doolie wield their clout on a even keel. Doolie is played subtly and soberly by Center for the Arts’ own office manager, Tim Smith, an experienced director and performer. When Doolie is forced to finally hire a black chauffeur for his mama, he settles upon Hoke, here played by Jimmy Sanford in his Murfreesboro debut. This Hoke is a different Hoke than Morgan Freeman’s own character in nuanced ways. He shows quiet chutzpah yet is never completely groveling as the long-suffering target of Miss Daisy’s frustration. And as the old adage goes, we are never upset for the reasons we think we are. Miss Daisy’s own defenses come to the surface because of, not in spite of, Hoke’s patience. Hoke never takes a thing personally and goes with the flow. Such Zen-like composure! His accent and “yessirs” and “Yes’ms” become like gentle mantras helping us all to muddle through not just his cantankerous and distrustful mistress’s foul moods, but also, our own impatience and preconceived notions of justice and judgment. It’s not really about the money or the wages at the core. Both these characters grow as human beings, and, as in all good theater, the marginalized people often manage to grow and evolve in ways the status quo cannot fathom. Southern theater must continue to expand and, by the way, where are our playwrights? Right here in Murfreesboro, I’m sure. Come on in, the water’s fine.
The Center for the Arts’ next production is Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Renee Robinson, March 8 – 31. Keep driving, Murfreesboro! You’re nearly there.