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Great theatre from The Gate Theatre

Read the Driving Miss Daisy review and make sure you check out the new play currently on at The Gate, Harvey.

Driving Miss Daisy: Love transcends boundaries, cements humanity

Despite deep-rooted racial prejudices, and economic and social disparities, love can still find its way through and bind people together. Love is probably the strongest cement that binds humanity together.

One such intense experience was when we got a chance to see a powerful theatre performance, “Driving Miss Daisy”. In those two and a half hours of theatre, we traversed through a journey of over 25 years. As the story unfolded, the way characters in the play deeply connected to us, especially Miss Daisy Werthan and her chauffeur Hoke Colburn, needs a very special mention with reverence. It was one of those theatre plays where more than the dialogue, it was the character’s performance which conveyed powerfully.

Staged by The Gate Theater in Chiang Mai, Thailand during 16-19 January 2020, Driving Miss Daisy is a Pulitzer Prize winning play, written by 1936-born Academy award winning Alfred Fox Uhry, based on his memories of his grandmother and her chauffeur, in times of civil rights movement in Atlanta, USA, when the struggle for racial equity that challenged white supremacy was brewing strong. Stephan Turner directs this play and justly enacted the role of chauffeur Hoke, while Pamela Teves puts forth her strong performance as Miss Daisy.

The theatre play opened with a white Jewish woman in her 70s (Miss Daisy) who proudly lives in self-sufficiency and manages her daily chores with dignity, with only her cook to help her out. She drives her car too. But unfortunately, one day she met with an accident when her car dashed into her neighbour’s yard. Luckily, she was not hurt but Miss Daisy’s son insisted that she must stop driving herself and instead get a chauffeur. She refused, but her son eventually forced her to have a chauffeur anyway (an African American man in his late 60s, Hoke, was the new chauffeur). The play unfolds 25 years of Miss Daisy’s life from here on, with her chauffeur Hoke.

It is interesting to note that her son while interviewing potential candidates for the chauffeur’s job, told Hoke that it is up to him to convince Miss Daisy to let herself be driven. In a way, most of the remaining play, presents how two proud senior citizens from very contrasting backgrounds, find a way to not only co-exist but also to bond with each other in ways that words will never be able to do justice to.

When Miss Daisy and Hoke first met each other, it would have been impossible to imagine any form of connection between the two. But as the play unfolded, although both are not quick to reveal emotions, yet they attempted to know more about each other. As their relationship inches closer over time, so deepens the innate beauty of the bonding between them two – a close friendship that transcended racial prejudices and social conventions.

Hoke’s patience is indeed profound but so is his non-flattering and non-pretentious, yet deeply genuine, demeanour with which he connects to Miss Daisy with pride. Hoke’s life has seasoned with surviving life’s humiliations but that hardened his sense of self-worth and calm dignity.

Miss Daisy had initially resisted the new arrangement of being driven by a chauffeur but settles in the new way of life, with her signature dose of verbal bossiness, mixed with increasing physical and emotional dependence.

This play also very subtly addresses racial injustices. It was only after seeing this play, that we read it was written in the context of brewing struggle for racial equity in the USA. For example, in one scene Hoke insisted on stopping the car to pee with the explanation that “You know coloured people cannot use the restrooms in the gas stations, Miss Daisy” with sudden cold flush of realization which often the privilege of class may have numbed us to. Another such incident in the play was when Hoke helped Miss Daisy understand the connection between an attack on a synagogue and an attack on churches for the people of colour.

In another scene, Miss Daisy’s son declined to accompany her to a Martin Luther King dinner, as he felt that associating with Martin Luther King could jeopardize his business. In today’s times too, such fears continue to haunt those who may not want to risk their privileges by associating with social justice movements. At the very last minute, Miss Daisy asks Hoke to accompany her to the dinner. Hoke’s discomfort and anger are very palpable in this scene for being invited at the last moment despite his regard for Miss Daisy and Martin Luther King.

Another strong scene was in a cemetery when Miss Daisy realized that Hoke could not read. There are so many assumptions we get blinded with, due to the privileges we get used to. She, who had been a teacher herself, introduced reading to Hoke. She gave him one of her books on Christmas while repeating that she never gives Christmas gifts – another signature scene as camaraderie and bonding develops between the two.

Later in the play Miss Daisy remarked “things have changed” implying towards racial equity, but Hoke reflected with poise and subtle nuance “they have not really that much”.

The Gate Theater of Chiang Mai has indeed done justice to every scene. But still we are compelled to say as an audience that this is one of those theatre plays where the very best is saved for the last. This scene marks the annual Thanksgiving Day. As we know that the Thanksgiving Day has roots in civil rights movement and is valued historically. People celebrate gratitude, something that we do not do enough of these days.

The backdrop of the last scene is an old-age nursing home where Hoke and Miss Daisy’s son are paying a visit to her on a Thanksgiving Day. The purity of the connection between Miss Daisy and Hoke in this moment is beyond our capacity to express. It is one of those special moments where we may risk forgetting we are watching a play as characters come to life so naturally.

The tender concern and love with which both share a pie could not have been enacted more justly. With all racial prejudices and other forms of inequities waning away over the years, the purity and sanctity of love that remains between the two, is simply epic. The play ends with this scene which will remain etched in our hearts for a long time to come.

The bond of humanity, that we can only wish in these times of fear mongering and hate, may throb forever in all our hearts.

If you are kicking yourself for missing out on Driving Miss Daisy, then make sure you don’t on Harvey: Elwood P. Dowd is an endlessly pleasant and delightfully eccentric bachelor living in a small town that isn’t quite aware that its newest citizen is an invisible, 6 foot 3 inch white rabbit named “Harvey,” that only certain people can see.

It is a spring afternoon at the Dowd family home, and a tea party for the high-society ladies of the Wednesday Forum is in full swing. The hostess, Veta Louise Simmons, is hoping that the event will allow her daughter, Myrtle Mae, now in her twenties and still unmarried, to mingle with the mothers and grandmothers of some of the town’s remaining eligible bachelors. However, to Veta’s horror, her brother, Elwood, arrives home unexpectedly and in the company of his closest friend, Harvey. Veta and Myrtle Mae are mortified as Elwood begins introducing his companion to the ladies of the Wednesday Forum. The embarrassing family secret is now exposed, and all that Veta and Myrtle Mae can do is watch helplessly as their guests flee the house.

This 1944 Pulitzer Prize Winning play has something for the entire family!

Shobha Shukla and Bobby Ramakant – CNS

(Shobha and Bobby live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and write for CNS www.citizen-news.org)