Feature

Driving Miss Daisy

Two titans of Broadway—Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones—give masterful performances in the first Broadway revival of Alfred Uhry’s 1987 play. 

John Golden Theatre
New York
(212) 239-6200

***

For proof that “giants still walk that tired, old corner of the earth called Broadway,” look no further than Driving Miss Daisy, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. “James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave are, by anyone’s reckoning, two of the last of these titans.” Together in the first Broadway revival of Alfred Uhry’s 1987 play, they bring a pleasing depth to this otherwise “slender work” about the relationship between an elderly Jewish matron and her African-American driver. It’s a joy to watch “two old pros” open up this humble snapshot of the mid-20th-century South simply by relishing their own acting mastery.

“If you want to know what star quality means, this is it,” said Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal. Those who saw Morgan Freeman as Hoke Coleburn and Dana Ivey as Daisy Werthan in the original, off-Broadway production may swear those performances were definitive, but Jones and Redgrave are proving that “when it comes to great acting, nobody ever has the last word.” Jones gives “a performance that is going to be talked about for the rest of his life—and after.” His Hoke is “a man of massive, unshakable dignity” who is unfailingly patient but demands respect from his abrasive employer. Redgrave’s performance is more muted, though her “combative, querulous Daisy” still ranks among her best work.

Director David Esbjornson’s graceful staging “makes plain that Daisy” is first and foremost “a love story,” said Elysa Gardner in USA Today. Though the play’s “social consciousness” never disappears, the evolving relationship between Daisy and Hoke is its true heart. Jones thus plays Hoke with a “twinkle in his eye” that brightens as he interacts with Daisy. Redgrave counters with a Daisy who can be “almost girlish in her coyness.” Their flirtations, “by turns funny, tender, adorable, and heartbreaking,” are poignant entertainment. By evening’s end, these two performers “remind us that great acting can transcend not only life but art as well.”

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