'Driving Miss Daisy' sputters along with miscast roles


Bad pun notwithstanding, "Driving Miss Daisy" is a perfect vehicle for actors. Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play focuses so keenly on the relationship between a Jewish widow and her black chauffeur that props are kept to a minimum, and for that matter so is the rest of the cast. With the exception of the woman's son, the other characters exist only as spoken references.

One recalls how vividly Julie Harris and Brock Peters embodied these characters in the touring production of the play at the Mechanic Theatre. Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman were no less memorable in the Oscar-winning screen version. So one doesn't envy other actors taking on these parts now that the play is being done at the college and community theater level.

But what makes the current Maryland Arts Festival production at Towson State University sputter isn't so much the above-mentioned star associations as that two of the three roles have been miscast. Not fatally miscast, but enough to make one aware of actors trying too hard to be something they are not.

As the chauffeur, Hoke, Larry Woody is far too young to be playing a man who is a senior citizen -- nearly as old as the ancient woman he chauffeurs. A Baltimore-born actor now living in New York, Mr. Woody has some noteworthy stage and screen credits, but here he overcompensates for his youthfulness by exaggerating Hoke's arthritic shuffle from side to side.

If Mr. Woody is too young for his part, Doug Roberts is too old for his role as Miss Daisy's son, Boolie. A local actor who is best known for his job as an entertainment critic for WBAL-TV, Mr. Roberts has captured the sassiness of his character, but he's too mature to put over that Boolie, for all his success in business and as a civic leader, is still a whining, overstuffed boy when it comes to dealing with his mother.

Making the miscasting even more pronounced is that while the play takes place from 1948 to 1973, virtually nothing is done via makeup or gesture to convey the gradual aging process until the final scene in a nursing home when old age suddenly hits everybody with a wallop.

Holding this production together is Maravene Loeschke, chairwoman of the TSU theater department, as Miss Daisy. Ms. Loeschke has a knack for the significant gesture as she absolutely becomes that stubborn lady. When Miss Daisy suspects Hoke of stealing a can of tuna from the pantry, her knuckles rap against that tuna tin as if each rap were an indictment.

"Driving Miss Daisy" will be performed in Towson State University's Fine Arts Center Studio Theatre on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 and Sunday afternoons at 3 through July 13. Tickets are $12. For ticket information call 830-ARTS.

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