Driving Miss Daisy
Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones hit the road.
Mon Oct 25 2010
Photograph: Carol Rosegg
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Driving Miss Daisy seems to have been revived primarily as a showcase for its above-the-title actors: Vanessa Redgrave as Daisy, a tetchy old Southern Jewish woman, and James Earl Jones as Hoke, her African-American chauffeur. Alfred Uhry's short 1987 play is a pleasing watercolor sketch of friendship and social progress as depicted through vignettes that span 25 years, from the late 1940s through the early 1970s. The story's essential intimacy was well suited to its original Off Broadway incarnation, and was captured adeptly in the piece's Oscar-winning 1989 film version. But in a Broadway house, and as staged amorphously by David Esbjornson, Driving Miss Daisy seems low on gas.
Vanessa Redgrave is a world-class actor, but she has little business playing Daisy Werthan—or rather, she has too much business, in the sense of fussy stage activity. From the first scene, which she spends whipping up a cake, to the last, in which she screws her face into a cartoon of wizened mischief, she never quite jells into personhood. Her deracinated Daisy verges on hokey; and so it falls to Jones's slightly dazed Hoke to give their relationship the requisite depth. Hale and booming, the actor is in fine fettle—though, at nearly 80, long-toothed for the part—and his imposing presence lends poignancy to Hoke's solicitude and dignity to his growing self-respect. His scenes with the reliable Boyd Gaines, as Daisy's son, have an enjoyable rhythm. But without a strong connection between the odd couple at its core, the play putters along as little more than a star vehicle, and one in which Jones does most of the driving.