Driving Miss Daisy at Sarnia’s Imperial Theatre

It is a taut 88-minute show with a cast of three and not a car in sight, but Driving Miss Daisy at Sarnia’s Imperial Theatre is imbued with a delightful chemistry that makes it well worth a road trip on a warm summer evening.

The Starbright Summer Festival production features Michael Learned as the aging widow Daisy Werthan and Walter Borden as Hoke Coleburn, her patient chauffeur. Cory O’Brien appears as Boolie Werthan.

Set in Atlanta and its environs between 1948 and 1973, Driving Miss Daisy is probably American playwright Alfred Uhry’s most durable story, earning him a Tony Award, a Pulitizer Prize and and Academy Award. Most of us identify Uhry’s script with the film starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, in which the latter brought to life on the big screen the role he had played in the original stage production.

Learned is best known for her role as Olivia Walton in the 1970s television drama The Waltons (though her other stage, film and television credits are lengthy) and it was clear many patrons of a certain age at yesterday’s opening-night performance, who arrived by the busload, came to bask in a little Waltons nostalgia. Learned’s performance, however, was transcendent, powerful and poignant as the widow who ages from 72 to 97 within the space of an hour and a half, as she wages her personal battle against age, loss and bigotry.

An accomplished veteran of Canadian stage and screen, Borden is every bit Learned’s equal as Daisy’s long-suffering chauffeur. His Hoke is delightfully playful and infused with humour. Borden’s timing is impeccable; his performance carries very well the considerable weight of playing opposite Learned, who has portrayed Daisy on other stages.

Accomplished choreographer Dayna Tekatch takes a minimalist approach to the Starlight production of Miss Daisy, in which the set changes hardly at all. She defers to raw acting talent and allows Learned and Borden to carry the show, which, despite a few opening-night backstage bumps and some sound miscues, works very well. One senses that the on-stage chemistry between the two lead actors will grow as the show matures.

The limited run of Driving Miss Daisy at the Imperial Theatre includes only 14 performances; it closes Aug. 20. Click here for ticket information.

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