Sunday, March 11, 2018
Alfred Uhry's "Driving Miss Daisy," running through March 18 at the Arts Center of the Ozarks, made quite a stir upon its debut: The Pulitzer Prize winner opened off-Broadway in 1987 and ran for nearly 1,200 performances. The 1990 movie adaptation netted an Academy Award for Best Movie, Best Screenplay and Best Actress.
It's no wonder the show was so popular. Uhry's script, based on his own family's history, packs an emotional wallop as it follows the 25-year relationship between 72-year-old Miss Daisy, whose son has decided she is too old to drive, and Hoke, the African-American driver hired to chauffeur her around town. The play's plot covers big themes: bigotry in the small-town South, the difficulties we face as we age, loyalty, friendship and -- biggest of all -- confronting our own mortality and the mortality of those we love.
‘Driving Miss Daisy’
WHEN — 3 p.m. March 11; 7:30 p.m. March 16-17; 3 p.m. March 18
WHERE — Arts Center of the Ozarks, 214 S. Main St., Springdale
INFO — 751-5441
"The show is timeless and so very well-written," says veteran ACO director Evan Crawford. "It's honest and humorous. Many of us will have to or have had to take on a caregiver role with a family member or aging friend. It's both important and difficult ... it's cathartic to express the complexity of caregiving with humor and honesty through this show."
Though the movie adaptation of the play had extraneous characters, the stage version has only three: Miss Daisy, Hoke and Miss Daisy's middle-aged son, Boolie. Crawford says there are pros and cons to directing when an entire show rests on only three sets of shoulders.
"Coaching and equipping a cast of three to carry the weight of the entire production is the challenge for me," says Crawford.
"The conversation, conflict, resolution, build and arc of each character in each scene of two (and, in some cases, three) people, in the same scene, [means] the dynamics of their differences and motives have to be apparent to the audience while remaining intensely honest to the characters," she says. "The advantage: There is more time for discussion with the actors. We've talked a lot about playing the honesty of the dialogue, even if what's being shared comes from a dishonest or confused place."
Ralph Sweatte plays Hoke, while Billy Bryant plays Boolie. Vickie Hilliard, a seasoned veteran and area favorite on Northwest Arkansas stages, is Miss Daisy. Though she's not Miss Daisy's age -- who is 72 at the beginning of the play and ages 25 years by its end -- Hilliard says she's confident she can handle it.
"I've been playing 'older characters' pretty much all my life," says Hilliard. "My very first role was 'Mrs. Claus' in my kindergarten Christmas play, glasses down my nose, doing needlepoint."
Hilliard echoes Crawford's sentiment about the play bringing to mind the difficulties of the aging process in those we love. Miss Daisy makes Hilliard think of her grandmother, who lived on her own until her senility caused an accident in her home.
"My grandmother went back in her mind to a day when you 'boiled your clothes on the stove to clean them,'" she says. "The water boiled out and caught on fire. She fell and broke her hip trying to run the flaming pot outside. She went from rehab straight into a nursing home, as my dad lived 500 miles from there and could not look in on her. That's where she passed away at age 98. She was so well loved in the community."
Both funny and sad -- as is life -- the show is sure to touch those who see it, says Crawford.
"I love the richness of the characters, their complexity and simplicity," she says. "These are people we all know in life."
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