Two leads put unique spins on character for production of 'Driving Miss Daisy'

Friday, May 4, 2007
Miss Daisy Werthan demonstrated bad singing for her driver, Hoke Colburn, in the River City Players' production of "Driving Miss Daisy," which opens today at Port Cape's River City Yacht Club. Martha Lee, left, plays Miss Daisy on odd-numbered evenings, and Claudette Hency plays the role on even-numbered dates. Lloyd Williams plays Hoke throughout the run. (Kit Doyle)

Daisy Werthan has become a cultural icon.

You may not know her by that name, but by Miss Daisy instead. Daisy's iconic status means the River City Players' production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play turned Academy Award-winning movie "Driving Miss Daisy" can either suffer from the audience's expectations cultivated by the film or benefit from the familiarity of the story.

In 2001 RCP benefited, selling out every show in the "Miss Daisy" run. In 2007, the result should be the same. This production is not the movie, but the story is intact, and the actors play their roles convincingly.

Randy Barnhouse and Lloyd Williams are both from the 2001 cast, reprising their roles as Daisy's son Boolie Werthan and her driver Hoke. To play Daisy director Debbie Barnhouse enlisted two women, Martha Lee, a newcomer to the RCP stage, and Claudette Hency, a former member of the theater group making her return after a several-year hiatus.

Due to the success of the 2001 show, the RCP added extra dates to this run of "Daisy," putting on eight shows instead of the usual five. Hency plays Daisy on even-numbered dates; Lee plays her on odd-numbered dates.

The watching experience will be different with each Daisy, as Hency and Lee each put their own spin on the character. Lee's Daisy seems more defiant, obsessive and controlling, needing to have everything in her life conform to her definition of correctness. Hency's Daisy seems more fragile, sometimes scared, facing her own mortality and fearing the world that's changing around her.

Regardless of who's playing Daisy, the cast chemistry is evident, especially between Randy Barnhouse and Williams. The two seem as if they're old friends, going over their shared memories one last time. Bringing these two back to reprise their roles was definitely a good move, as both seem at ease throughout.

Translating this story to stage must have been easy in a way, since the dramedy relies heavily on story and character interaction, not flashy scenery. At the same time, the play moves quickly, presenting small vignettes of the characters' interactions over 25 years, requiring many changes of scenery and costume.

The Players pull it off through hustle, making the most of their lighting and encouraging some imagination. As usual, the detailed set constructed by Tim Roth makes imagining a bit easier.

Those who know and love this story shouldn't be disappointed by the Players' stage version. Those who don't shouldn't be disappointed either -- the story is touching and the characters are memorable.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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