Originally a Pulitzer Prize-winning play adapted into an Academy Award-winning motion picture, the classic “Driving Miss Daisy” is still golden in its Prince William Little Theatre debut at Baldwin Elementary School.
Spanning 30 years (1943-1973), “Driving Miss Daisy” tells the heartwarming story of Daisy (Mona Kay Helper), an elderly Jewish woman no longer fit to drive, and her ever-evolving friendship with Hoke (Ardith Collins), her African American chauffeur.
Resistant to the idea of being driven around, Daisy, a 72-year-old former teacher, is frustrated with her son Boolie (Bryan Marsh) after being told that no insurance company will cover her after a recent accident where she mistook the reverse for ignition. Knowing what is best for his mother, Boolie proceeds with hiring Hoke, a widower that had been out of work for some time, for a starting rate of $20 a week.
Believing she is self-sufficient enough, Daisy refuses Hoke’s help and insists on taking public transportation. However, before his first week of work is over, Daisy allows for a quick trip to the market. Pleased with his achievement, Hoke calls Boolie regarding the good news.
“It only took six days. Same time it took the Lord to make the world,” he says sarcastically.
Collins is a strong success in his portrayal, taking on the role of Hoke with a natural sense of direction and determination. Tall and slender, dressed in a professional suit and tie with black dress shoes and a chauffeur hat to top it off, his attractive appearance matches his personality of equal charm.
Untrusting and overly cautious while being taxied around town, Daisy is an anxious backseat driver, jumping at the slightest changes in speed and making such outlandish requests as to go below the limit to save on gas and not to park in the sun so that the upholstery doesn’t fade.
Helper is the driving force in this powerful production. Even in her stubbornness, the true heart and soul of her extraordinary character takes the lead. Helper’s talent for balancing the sweet and sour of Daisy is carried out with passion and grace.
During a routine trip to the cemetery to tend to her husband’s plot, Daisy asks Hoke to place flowers on an old friend’s grave only to find that he cannot read. While discouraged in her outward response, Daisy’s confidence in Hoke shines through as she has him sound out the letters and assures him that he can read.
“Don’t come back telling me you can’t do it – you can,” she says with certainty. Her investment in Hoke continues when she later gives him a fifth grade handwriting book in order to help him practice his skills.
The chemistry between Helper and Collins is magnetic; their characters’ relationship over the decades is touching and bittersweet as weathered conditions take over and limps turn to canes that are replaced by walkers.
Just under two hours, “Driving Miss Daisy’s” execution is flawless all around. A small-time production with about 20 people in the crowd, this back pocket secret of a show deserves a spotlight marquee revealing its grand status.
Bonded as best friends ’til the end, the emotional final scene where Hoke, himself now unable to drive, reunites with Daisy in a nursing home on Thanksgiving is emotionally stirring in its sincerity. Closing notes of Hoke helping a shaky and frail Daisy eat pumpkin pie keep the heartfelt journey of “Driving?” in full gear long after the curtain has closed.
WHEN YOU GO
* “Driving Miss Daisy”
* Baldwin Elementary School, Manassas
* 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 28, and 3 p.m. Sunday
* Tickets: $10 to $12
* (703) 330-7796 or PWLT.org