Here's what you can say about the Stage West Community Playhouse production of Driving Miss Daisy: "Purt near perfect." That's why it received the rapt attention and appreciation of the sold-out opening night audience, even those of us (gratefully) perched on the hastily added lawn chairs brought in to accommodate the overflow.
Director Saul Leibner's three-person cast masterfully portrays the subtler aspects of racism in themselves and vividly suggests the violently nasty racism of the 1948 to 1973 South (and, truth be told, the entire United States) through the grace and dignity of the growing friendship between a wealthy, aging, white Jewish Southern lady, Daisy Werthan (Lorus Hawbecker), and her wise, knowing black chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn (Glenn Claytor). Miss Daisy's son Boolie (Leslie Richards) provides the leavening between the two with honesty and self-awareness.
Leibner's set design and Dave Stenger's set construction create five distinct locations on the small Forum stage (a dining room, office, car, vestibule and cemetery) without moving as much as a pencil. Mollie Lutz's costumes recreate the era and social status of each character to perfection. Leibner also chose the perfect music from his own collection for the brief bridges between the scenes, setting the mood and time frame just right. Dalton Benson's sound design, Kyle Marwood's sound operation and Dan Brijbag's light design and operation beautifully complete this truly wonderful theater experience. And kudos to dresser Amy Rose for helping the players shorten the time between scenes so that the mood of the moment isn't broken.
Still, it is jaw-dropping performances by the cast and Leibner's excellent direction of them that will burn into the memory. Ms. Hawbecker reprises her Lary Award-winning turn as the spunky Miss Daisy with award-worthy ease. Claytor is superb in his first major stage role, maintaining not only the Southern accent, but also the body language and overall demeanor of a 1948 black man who can mutter more truths in five seconds than any famous white orator could shout in five days.
These two consummate actors, along with Richards, deserved the first-nighters' standing cheers and make it likely that the few remaining tickets to next weekend's shows will be sold quickly.