The Diablo Actors Ensemble current production of Driving Miss Daisy is a theatrical masterpiece!

This week I have reviewed a brilliantly written story which chronicles the painfully slow passing of time and gradual reductions in racial prejudices as it may well have occurred in our southern states, as revealed in Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Driving Miss Daisy”, in the Diablo Actors Ensemble Theater in Walnut Creek.

Many of my readers were avid followers of Lois Grandi’s little 49 seat theatre, Playhouse West, on Locust Street in downtown Walnut Creek for several reasons, the intimate nature of a 49 seat theatre and the exceedingly professional level of theatrical productions delivered in this venue. When Lois Grandi decided to retire from this very arduous exercise, that of managing her own theater, Scott Fryer and his daughter, Samantha, took over this space a little over a year ago, with great hope of making this little theatre work for them and you as well. In case you have not been following their progress, they are slowly and carefully building momentum, and their own following. This venue is now operated by the Diablo Actors Ensemble Theatre, with Scott Fryer, Samantha Fryer and company fulfilling their end of the bargain by providing truly excellent, professional level theatre at a very reasonable cost. Now it is up to you to check them out, to attend this theater and if you do, I am sure you will be climbing right up on their momentum-gathering fan-wagon!

Of all the professional actors in the Bay Area that my wife and I have grown great admiration for, there is one, Mr. L. Peter Callender, that we have eager followed for close to 20 years. Mr. Callender is a brilliant thespian who must have been employed by just about every major professional theater within the Bay Area’s theatrical sphere of influence. Peter is a proud member of Actors Equity Association and is the Artistic Director of the African-American Shakespeare Company, an associate artist at California Shakespeare Theatre and his credits include Shakespeare Santa Cruz, TheaterWorks, Aurora Theater, Marin Theatre Company, Berkeley Repertory Company, A.C. T., San Jose Rep, TheaterFirst and the Lorraine Hansberry Theater, just to name a FEW!

When an actor of Mr. Callender’s credentials agree to step into a little 49 seat theatre such as Diablo Actor’s Ensemble, there has to be a strong motivating factor. Now, I cannot know what motivates Mr. Callender, but I can tell you that this is the second time he has agreed to tread the theatrical boards of this little company’s stage in the past year. Last year he starred in the outstanding production of “Educating Rita” that I raved about. That in its self, must say something about the quality of theatrical experience he expects to be associated with. An actor of this caliber just does not agree to put his reputation on the line, in anything less than the best, and Mr. Calleder never does become a part of anything that is less than the very best.

Joining him on this stage, in the Diablo Actor’s Ensemble’s production of “Driving Miss Daisy”, are two more actors for which I have great respect and admiration, Ann Kendrick and Timothy Beagley. Again Ann and Timothy bring to this marvelous award winning play, all that talent that makes a great work, a greater work of art and wisdom. Superb Acting all around!

I often talk about actors first, even before I begin to discuss the merits of a play, as it is the strength and merit of the actors, upon whose grist and gumption, bravery, brawn and mental metal, the theatrical alchemists forge and temper the wit and will of the author’s work.

That next most important element is the director, the overseer, the master of vision, who brings all the elements together, who directs with wisdom and perception, hopefully culminating in a performance that brings us to our feet or elicits our applause, in appreciation as the final curtain brings the production to a close. It is the combination of actors and directors who weave together the fabric of each play and player into a garment that we can wrap around us, a garment of experience that brings us warmth, wisdom, humor, joy and knowledge. Director Scott Fryer has delivered a beautiful and moving work of art in this production.

In this production of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, we have all the elements necessary to produce a masterpiece, and that is exactly what we get, a masterpiece!

Uhry’s story begins in 1948, in Atlanta, Georgia, in the household of a Jewish widow, Daisy Werthan (Ann Kendrick), who has a propensity for driving her family automobile into other objects. Her son, Boolie Worthan (Timothy Beagley), has informed his mother that he can no longer find an insurance company that is willing to risk insuring her and her mishaps. Boolie suggests that he hire a driver to provide his mother with means of comfortable and safe transportation. Mrs. Worhan, a woman always conscious of her Jewish heritage (which had its roots in dire poverty there in Atlanta, but on the wrong side of the tracks), rebels against the concept of hiring a driver. She does not want her neighbors or synagogue members to see her as a person too elderly to drive or as a person ostentatious enough to desire a hired driver.

In spite of his mother’s objections, Boolie hires a black driver, Hoke Colburn, who has excellent credentials as a driver. After his hire, Daisy, refuses to allow Hoke to drive her anywhere, not for a whole week, as she continues to walk where she has to go to takes the trolley to the Piggly Wiggly Market, leaving Hoke and her new Hudson at home. Finally, after a whole week she relents and allows Hoke to drive her to the store and thus begins a twenty five year relationship that grows from adversarial, to deep friendship and lasting respect.

These times in the south signified huge changes in racial equality and prejudice and these changes are mirrored in the events that take place in their times. While on a driving trip to Alabama, when Hoke discloses that he cannot use the public men’s room at a gas station, and has to go into the woods to relieve himself, Miss Daisy begins to realize for the first time how seriously Hoke’s race affects his ability to live in the white society around him.

After a number of years pass, Miss Daisy wants to attend a dinner at which the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. will be the featured speaker. She wants her son to attend as well, but her son, who is a very successful businessman in the Atlanta business community, tells his mother that while he personally respects what the Reverend King is doing, he cannot attend and appear to be in support of Reverend King’s freedom movement. He tells her that the reality of the situation is that such a move would silently cost him dearly in the long run, in his relationships with his other not so enlightened Atlanta business associates.

The play reflects the ugliness of the times and the beauty of the people who helped to bring about the changes in their communities and society in general. It is a marvelous play, at time a very humorous play, a play with a terrific message, delivered by some outstanding messengers. I strongly recommend that you make time to see this outstanding work.
Driving Miss Daisy continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays now through February 13th, with performances at 8 p.m., except on Sundays were the matinees at 2 p.m. in the Diablo Actor’s Ensemble Theatre, which is located at 1345 Locust Street in Walnut Creek, next door to Peet’s Coffee. Call (866) 811-4111 for tickets and reservations or order on line at . Tickets range between $10 and $30. There is a public parking garage across the street that stays open until 3 a.m. on the weekends.