We wanted a longer journey with Driving Miss Daisy at the Gaiety
We can all remember the elderly matriarch Jessica Tandy and her genial driver Morgan Freeman in the Hollywood movie Driving Miss Daisy – and that dynamic pair were always going to be hard to match.
But former Coronation Street star Gwen Taylor, the shrewd but sharp Miss Daisy Werthan and Chicago actor, Ernest Perry Jr (Hoke Colburn) who has played roles in movies, The Untouchables and The Colour of Money – have pulled it off.
As the audience watches the story of the black-American driver, working for the wealthy, Jewish widow, during a time of racial tension in Atlanta, Georgia, we slowly become friends with the two actors, who age before us.
The opulent Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, seems to enjoy tropical temperatures as we are transported to the heat of 1940s Georgia.
The witty squabbles between the widow and driver, as she at first refuses to let him transport her, are enjoyable and you can sense the audience rooting for Perry Jr. as he tries to conquer the will of his new boss.
The play, written by Pulitzer prize-winning Aflred Uhrywhich, explores racism against black people in Georgia at that time, while also touching on anti-semitism, depicted by the bombing of the synagogue Miss Daisy attends.
It is only after this tragedy that the stalwart widow realises that she and other Jewish people, are similar to the man she had looked down upon, Hoke, because they too are victims of prejudice.
The transformation of Miss Daisy in to a softened, compassionate human being, is subtle and the progress of her aging and sad demise in to sudden dementia, is also handled with care by Taylor – who moves awkwardly and in a stunted manner as her character matures with age.
While the recognition of self and empowerment embodied by Perry Jr. as Hoke, is impressive and believable. You feel yourself rooting for the driver and for them as the pair as they grow closer together.
Finally Miss Daisy realises how valuable Hoke, a man who had only started out in her life as a mere servant, has become to her.
“You’re my best friend,” Taylor announces as it becomes clear sadly, there isn’t much fight left in the widow.
Simon Delaney (Bachelors Walk, Delivery Man, The Good Wife) plays the dutiful son Boolie Werthan, who portrays magical moments of fondness mixed with irritation at his elderly mother’s stubborn nature.
The most poignant moment being when his catchphrase for his mother “You’re a doodle, Mama,” takes a sudden pitiful tone, Boolie realising his mother is losing her capacities.
Perry Jr. takes on the role of an elderly, black man living through times of racial tension with ease. He is a natural actor, whose every thought, word and movement is believable.
For those lucky enough to watch this man perform, it is likely they would agree, his prowess on stage is the most interesting and noteworthy matter about the play.
There is also a genuine apathy in the role played by Taylor, who embodies a woman who moves from her 70s to 97, her eyes lighting up as she is fed soup by her old friend.
The play’s genius is that a quarter of a century is captured within just an hour-and-a-half with such ease. The actors suddenly seem to age before us, their movements becoming slower and more cumbersome.
The only complaint was the play didn’t run a little longer, like Miss Daisy’s beloved car.
Driving Miss Daisy shows at the Gaiety Theatre until May 28. Tickets from €21 including booking fee. Call the box office on: 0818 719388.