I kind of dragged myself off to Driving Miss Daisy on Sunday afternoon, not expecting much. I had never seen Alfred Uhry's play (or the movie) about an elderly Jewish widow in Atlanta and her black chauffeur, also getting up in years, because it sounded like such sentimental stuff.
So how come I was howling with laughter through much of the play?
Mea culpa. I was totally wrong about Uhry's play, which is not only hilarious but also very touching as the relationship between Daisy Werthan and Hoke Coleburn deepens through the decades. And the Jewish experience in Atlanta provides a telling perspective on the civil rights movement in episodes such as the 1958 bombing by white supremacists of Daisy's synagogue.
American Stage has cast Driving Miss Daisy wonderfully well, with Ann Morrison as the formidable widow and Bob Devin Jones as the resourceful chauffeur. Morrison is a Broadway singer of distinction, and Jones has an acting resume loaded with Shakespeare, and the result of their vocal talent and training is one of the most strongly spoken productions I have seen in some time. They project, articulate and express Uhry's deft dialogue in fine fashion.
Complementing Morrison and Jones is the third member of the cast, Steve Garland, who brings a harried comic style to his portrayal of Boolie, Daisy's son, a go-getting businessman. The scene in which Boolie and Hoke negotiate the chauffeur's terms of employment is a priceless satirical sketch of relations between blacks and Jews in the new South.
Theatergoers with aging parents will relish the banter between Boolie and his mother, and recognize the issues. "She's all there. Too much there is the problem,'' he says of Daisy, who resists giving up driving after an accident makes her uninsurable.
Morrison, Jones and Garland age gracefully, aided by Adrin Erra Puente's understated costuming. The set by Tom Hansen and lighting by Kate Bashore are spare (the car is a set of benches) but effective. T. Scott Wooten directed, and he must have done something right to have elicited such superb performances from his cast.
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Apprentice singers from Opera Tampa give a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Heritage Museum, 100 Beekman Lane, Tarpon Springs. This was switched from an outdoor performance in the park on Spring Bayou.
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Soprano Jessica Cambio, 27, of Naples, won the $4,000 first prize in Saturday's college and young professional opera singer competition, presented by the Suncoast Opera Guild in St. Petersburg. Soprano Betsy Diaz, 21, of Miami won the $3,000 second prize; and soprano Phoenix Gayles, 22, of Temple Terrace, the $2,000 third prize.
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Oboist Matt Sullivan is featured in two events at the [email protected], 620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. At 5:30 Thursday, Sullivan and Katherine Young, principal oboe of the Florida Orchestra, give a free master class. At 8 p.m. Friday, Sullivan will play, and artist Ken Cro-Ken will paint in a collaborative performance they call "Multiple Oneness: Time Released Art and Music.'' Pay what you will.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.