Monday, April 8, 2013

Driving Miss Daisy

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Angela Lansbury talks 'Driving Miss Daisy'

Angela Lansbury chats about 'Driving Miss Daisy' ahead of the play's 5-week run in Melbourne.

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

THEATRE
Driving Miss Daisy
By Alfred Uhry
Comedy Theatre, until May 12 

The standing ovation was swift and unanimous at the Melbourne opening of Driving Miss Daisy. It wasn't merely a matter of excitement at the sheer star power of this production, the sense that, in seeing Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones - now both in their 80s - you were taking part in an unforgettable moment in theatrical history.

No, the fact is these two legends of the Broadway stage magnify through crisp and authoritative performances the underlying theme of Alfred Uhry's play.

If Driving Miss Daisy insists that all of us - regardless of ethnicity or religion - are on the crawl towards death together, if it insists that it is love and goodwill that allow us to counter the indignities of life and age, then Lansbury and Jones raise the stakes by embodying with a commanding clarity the rare dignity of actors whose skill, presence and commitment to the craft remain undiminished until the curtain falls.

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From her opening scene, truculently arranging daisies while her son (Boyd Gaines) tries to persuade her she can no longer drive, Lansbury's Miss Daisy provides a sharp and sparkling portrait of the little old Jewish lady who cherishes her independence but who falls for Hoke Coleburn (Jones), the coloured chauffeur her son thrusts upon her.

Her platonic seduction by the shrewd and jovial Hoke provides a lot of scope for poignancy and humour. And the two actors create a spry intimacy with the lightest of touches, moving from wry antagonism to that incredible final moment when, as Hoke feeds Daisy in a nursing home, the violence and terrible discrimination of the decades leading to the civil rights movement vanish into a look of childlike bliss on her face.

Driving Miss Daisy works by sublimating the political into the personal; Jones and Lansbury glide through the play's dance of spring in autumn with a degree of precision and presence, discipline and subtlety you almost never see on the Australian stage.

Boyd Gaines is terrific too, as Daisy's businessman son, well-meaning but born to privilege, with a weaker personality than his elders.

David Esbjornson's production is seamless and spare, sporting simple, uncluttered design and projections that give a sweeping sense of the history that swirls around the intimate relationship at the play's heart.

But it's the acting you're paying for. Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones are brilliant, unmissable. If you care about theatre, rush to buy tickets before they're all gone.


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