Driving Miss Daisy | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Driving Miss Daisy

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DRIVING MISS DAISY, Northlight Theatre, at the Northwestern University Theatre and Interpretation Center's Josephine Louis Theatre. Director Jonathan Wilson's fine revival of Alfred Uhry's beautifully crafted one-act, which traces the 25-year relationship between a persnickety Jewish widow and her African-American chauffeur, finds new resonance thanks to the offbeat performance of Ben Halley Jr. as the driver. Eschewing the crafty courtliness and Pullman-porter refinement usually associated with the role, Halley's Hoke is a lumbering bumpkin with an aw-shucks smile and the too-careful articulation of a man desperate to hide his lack of education, a choice that seems truer to the text: Hoke is a onetime farm boy who spent years driving trucks.

As a result, the dignity with which he wins over the hostile, tart-tongued Daisy (a prim, prickly Ann Whitney) is visibly earned. The breakthrough moment when Hoke admits to Daisy he can't read--and her unintentionally harsh response, followed by a generous and rejuvenating endeavor to teach him--is as quietly thrilling as anything in modern American drama. As the characters come to understand their own failings and misconceptions as well as each other's, their acceptance and affection emerge as a true victory of the human spirit over prejudice and temperament.

Driving Miss Daisy is no King Lear, as Republican cultural spokespersons liked to sneer a few years back when the play was used as an example of NEA-supported art. But it's a knowing, moving, enduring examination of racial and religious divisions in American life, and it's in capable hands here.

--Albert Williams

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