Alfred Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy” has always been an actor-based play despite the many accolades the script has received.
The 1988 Pulitzer Prize for drama and a 1990 Academy Award for adapted screenplay are two of its showier prizes and a bit ironic considering how slight the piece truly is. Even so, the story of the 25-year-long relationship between an elderly Southern Jewish woman and her black chauffeur in Atlanta, Ga., has some charm.
In the new Sacramento Theatre Company production at the Pollock Stage, the familiar story receives a credible run with Janis Stevens as the title character, Daisy Werthen, and Michael J. Asberry as her driver, Hoke Colburn. Stevens eventually captures Daisy’s vulnerability (she felt too big and broad early on) while Asberry effectively gives Hoke an understated depth and dignity.
Of course, Hoke becomes much more than Miss Daisy’s driver over the course of the play, which opens in 1948 and skips along in short, pointed scenes up to 1973. Along the way they experience events such as the bombing of the temple where Miss Daisy worships and the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – as all the while Hoke becomes her companion as much as her driver.
When the play opens, Daisy is already a 72-year-old widow who has just crashed her new car. Her dutiful son, Boolie, (the sturdy Scott Devine) hires Hoke against his mother’s wishes, and Hoke patiently works to gain her trust. By the end, he will be her best friend.
Uhry doesn’t have to push his narrative much, and he doesn’t, relying on the obvious dynamics he’s put firmly in place. There are of issues of race, class, religion and family and an unstated idea that they all want and need the same things, but this is mostly in the background of Daisy’s obligatory irascibility and Hoke’s studied tolerance of it. There are moments in the writing that stand out mainly for the prescience to current times, as when Daisy asks Hoke who would bomb the temple, and he replies, “It’s always the same people.”
There aren’t big moments here, and director Benjamin T. Ismail doesn’t force any on the production.
Stevens is most effective as Daisy eases into her advanced years and no longer affects the pretense of resisting Hoke’s easygoing company, which is much like the play as well.
Driving Miss Daisy
What: The Sacramento Theatre Company production of the Alfred Uhry drama, starring Janis Stevens and Michael J. Asberry. Benjamin T. Ismail directs.
Where: Sacramento Theatre Company, Pollock Stage, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: Through Feb. 14 at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Information: tickets.sactheatre.org, 916-443-6722
Time: 90 minutes with no intermission