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Learning from 'Miss Daisy': Washington County Playhouse to stage Pulitzer Prize-winning play

August 07, 2013|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE | crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com
  • Claudia Patterson plays the role of Daisy Werthan, David Keye plays Boolie Werthan and Andre Brown plays Hoke Coleburn in the Washington County Playhouse production of Driving Miss Daisy.
Colleen McGrath / Colleen McGrath

HAGERSTOWN —  

A true, deep friendship can overcome any kind of barriers — age, race or status. Or so Alfred Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy” teaches its audience.

The Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater will stage the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, with a three-member cast using a sparse black box theater on the Donald L. Spickler Stage. The show opens Saturday.

Jeff Czerbinski, co-owner of the playhouse with wife, Loretta, said “Driving Miss Daisy” is one of three Atlanta-based plays Uhry wrote and referred to as the “Atlanta trilogy.”

“Driving Miss Daisy” tells the story of an elderly Jewish matriarch, Daisy Werthan, her son, Boolie Werthan, and the black chauffeur he hires, Hoke Colburn. The story covers the years of 1948 to 1973.

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“This one is really timeless in its theme,” Czerbinski said, before the cast was readying themselves for a dress rehearsal earlier this week. “The theme we’re developing is about our innate prejudices. When we’re brought up in our homes, we assume the paradigms from our parents. And we also learn how to cover those prejudices by saying ‘I’m not prejudiced,’ ‘I’m not racist,’ ‘I’m not a bigot’ and then we do things that prove to the contrary.”

And each character, Czerbinski explained, already has his or her own ideas about the other.

“Miss Daisy has her prejudices,” he said. “So does Hoke, her driver, and so does Boolie. And that’s really what this is all about, and how overcoming innate prejudices can lead to a beautiful relationship that otherwise would not exist.”

Claudia Patterson of Charles Town, W.Va., plays Daisy Werthan. In the play, her character ages from 72 to 97.

“(Daisy’s) definitely set in her ways,” Patterson said of her character. “... (She’s) very opinionated, very high strung. She has her ideas of right and wrong, but she’s got a kind heart.”

Although “Driving Miss Daisy” is set in the Deep South when segregation was prevalent,  Patterson said “Driving Miss Daisy” continues to be relevant for today’s audiences.

“As much as I hate to say it, we do have as much racism in America as we did back then,” she said. “It’s just somewhat muted. Look at the President (Obama), he definitely has very many critics and very many people who oppose his ideas. (Racism) does, unfortunately, exist today.”

Additionally, “Driving Miss Daisy” also explores the theme of aging in America and aging parents, she said.

“We definitely have many people living much longer than they used to,” Patterson said. “... just the care and the understanding and the family relationships change with age. I myself had a mother who died of Alzheimer’s. I’m able to relate. It’s just a really good show and it’s well written.”

Joining Patterson onstage as Hoke is Andre Brown of Martinsburg, W.Va.  Brown said he had the chance to see “Driving Miss Daisy” on Broadway when James Earl Jones played Hoke. 

Brown also put on Hoke’s chauffeur hat about three years ago when he played the character at another theater. 

“‘Driving Miss Daisy’ continues to be relevant,” Brown said, “because it gives people something that they are looking for that they don’t normally find when there (are) issues of race or your background — how you were raised — are involved. It’s good to see the other side of life — being involved with people from two different backgrounds — that they are able to cultivate a friendship that is more than just a friendship; they seem to be more like brother and sister by the end of the show.”

As an actor, Brown said he has learned a lot from playing Hoke. 

“I have learned patience is really great,” he said with a laugh. “And being able to stand up for what you believe in is very important regardless who you’re with. Knowing your place is good — that doesn’t have to do with race or anything. But just (knowing) that you’re here for a purpose and no matter what you are in life, you can still make a difference, even if it’s very small. You can basically touch somebody’s life through your life by how you handle your situations.”

David Keye of Frederick, Md., portrays Boolie Werthan, Daisy’s son. Keye said their relationship is a complex one. 

“He loves his mother dearly, but she’s maddening to him,” he said. “She drives him crazy. It’s mostly a matter of him looking out for her, even though she doesn’t want to be looked out for.”

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