Driving Miss Daisy
RHCR Theatre — through June 8
Rich Heritage of Cedar Rapids Theatre Company (RHCR) opened Driving Miss Daisy to an appreciative audience Friday night — and indeed, there was a great deal to appreciate. Under the direction of Kimberli Skelton Maloy, the cast of three delivers a beautifully crafted story that is at once about friendship and also a meditation on race.
Gary Benser (Boolie Werthan) has a powerful stage presence. He is both the good son, looking after his mama, and a good ol’ boy in the business world in Atlanta. Benser brings this character alive with his voice and natural movement on stage. This show marked Benser’s debut on stage; one can only hope we will see more of him in future productions.
Miss Daisy, played by Susie Burns, is redoubtable in every scene even as her health declines over the course of the show. Burns becomes the embodiment of southern womanhood as it was in the mid-20th century, and she plays the role to near perfection. Hoke Colburn is portrayed by Sam Black who, like his castmates, truly brings his character to life.
This small cast of three is charged with bringing a story of family, friendship and race to its audience. Benser, Burns and Black excel at developing the storyline and the relationships while being on stage nearly the whole show. Driving Miss Daisy is presented in short scenes over 90 minutes with no intermission.
While some of the transitions felt clunky, the show is mostly smooth — that is due, again, to the actors and their stamina in being on stage nearly continually for the duration of the performance, as well as their excellent sense of dramatic and comedic timing. Black, in particular, delivered both verbal and non-verbal humor throughout the show. Be sure to watch his facial expressions every chance you get!
While the show centers on family and friendship, there is no denying the element of race as the story progresses. This ensemble handles race delicately; the only distressing thing about the way race is presented is that the messages about the need for equality and humanity are just as needed today as they were more than fifty years ago. At one point in the show, the stage is darkened and we hear a recorded excerpt from a speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The audience could not help but be moved to reflection at this juncture.
The minimalist set (Cheyan DeBrower) and perfunctory lighting (Doug Anderson) serve to put the spotlight on the relationships that the ensemble builds. Costuming (Aimee Jones) captures the mid-century south. Sound effects (Evan Harney) were minimal, as well, and the props (also managed by Harney) were Chekhovian in their use: Everything had a place and a purpose.
If you have not yet been to a show at RHCR, now is the time. This theater company is for everyone. The seasoned theatergoer as well as the theater newcomer will enjoy the intimacy of the black box space. Everyone at RHCR will make you feel welcome, and you will see a show that opens your heart and your mind.
Physically, you will find the theater tucked behind a Casey’s and in the basement of a church. It might take you a once around the block to really see where to go, but it is well worth the effort. Tickets are $16-19; the show runs through June 8.