With a duo like Dale Hodges and Reggie Willis one would expect a dynamite show. Throw in a director with a reputation like Mark Lutwak and then find a script that is beloved like DRIVING MISS DAISY and you have an expectation of masterpiece theatre.
The thing is as good as DRIVING MISS DAISY is and as good as Hodges and Willis are (and Randy Lee Bailey ain’t half bad either), I walked out of The Carnegie feeling like something was missing. Perhaps it was the audience, filled with unbelievably obnoxious behavior. A woman behind me literally passed gas out of both ends and just said “excuse me” as if this was totally acceptable. The woman next to me arrived at 3:00 exactly, climbed over me during an awkward and timid curtain speech, and shifted in her seat as if we were on a cruise ship. She had so much perfume on I actually thought I was smelling Miss Daisy herself. People talked through scenes, phones were vibrating in their purse, and people were unzipping their purses to get out their bottles of soda all within a few seats of me. People got up and opened the clunky doors in the back of the theater as loudly as possible only to come back in creating as much of a distraction as they left causing. It’s a reminder of why I hated the last matinée I saw here and an obvious sign that I need to attend opening night performances instead.
But maybe I was expecting more than I should have. In thinking about the script, there are no big climactic scenes, no dramatic arguments, and no emotional breakdowns. It’s chock full of sweetness, humor, and wonderful relationships but nothing overtly dramatic really happens. It’s a beautiful character study and relationship play. As I sat in the theatre and watched the marvelous transformation of the characters from old to very old, I started to think about my own life. And isn’t that what theatre ought to do?
Hodges and Willis have great chemistry together. And I liked Bailey’s work, but he might be too nice of an actor to play the ambitious son with the layers necessary to keep up with Hodges nuance. Lutwak has staged the show in as interesting a way as possible, making use of the big stage despite his small cast. He doesn’t need fancy props to tell his story, but instead he and his team make use of radios, era-specific music, and sound effects to set time and place. The large American flag art at the back of the stage reminds us that this is an American story, too, as our country’s change is parallel to that of Miss Daisy and Hoke’s own journey together.
DRIVING MISS DAISY didn’t “wow” me; but I don’t think it was supposed to. It would make for a wonderful night out at the theatre for you and a friend. And while you’re at The Carnegie, check out the powerful artwork located near the concession stand and be sure to say hello to Brenda, one of my favorite Box Office managers in town.
DRIVING MISS DAISY runs at The Carnegie in Covington, KY through November 16th. Tickets and more information are available here or by calling 859.957.1940. The show runs 93 minutes with no intermission.