A trio of strong characters will be taking the stage at the Willingham Theater as “Driving Miss Daisy” is presented Sept. 22-24.
As part of his role as artistic director for the Yadkin Arts Council, Ron Stacker Thompson said he works hard to bring an array of shows to Yadkin County, from comedy to drama to musicals.
“This is a small show, but it leans on the heart and deals with topics like black and white,” he said. “This relationship of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ has always spoken to me.”
In being friends with Morgan Freeman, who filled the role of Hoke Colburn in the original play and again in the movie that came later, Thompson said the piece “is a comedy but also a drama.”
There are three people in the Willingham cast — Thompson’s wife, Cle Thompson, who is in the role of Daisy Werthan; Derrick Parker Jr. as Hoke Colburn; and Aaron Ross, as Daisy’s son Boolie Werthan. But Cle Thompson said the audience also will get to know and bond with characters like Boolie’s wife Florine and Idella. “They are talked about all the time in the play, so you get to bond with the characters and form opinions about them even though you never see them,” she said.
For those who may have seen the film, but not the stage play, Ron Stacker Thompson explained the two are similar in language and script, but the difference is the visual, because there is no car on stage.
The three actors in the Willingham performance are “a neat, intimate trio,” Thompson said. “They are working really well together.”
Cle Thompson, a well-known jazz vocalist, is coming in from Los Angeles, where her daughter and grandchild are, for the role, while Ross and Parker are from Winston-Salem. Ron Stacker Thompson, who is directing the play, in addition to being the artistic director for the arts council, teaches screenwriting for the University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking.
“The role in itself is a role just about every actress would want to do,” said Cle Thompson of Daisy. “She’s an amazing character and the challenge is bring her to life.”
Technically, the character of Daisy is intense as well, added Ron, noting that Daisy goes from age 72 to 97 during the hour and a half on stage.
He said the playwright, Alfred Uhry, saw Daisy as a spirited woman, even in 1948 when he describes the 72-year-old woman in high heels. “That wasn’t easy in 1948 because once a woman passed a certain age she was supposed to be grandmotherly,” Ron explained. “We start her out as feisty, and then as she ages, she becomes not with it.”
“Driving Miss Daisy” was based on characters from Uhry’s family, Thompson explained of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, which was followed by overwhelming success off Broadway and a movie winning five Academy Awards.
“It is rare when one piece of theater has or displays or causes so many emotions,” he said. “This particular piece makes you laugh, brings a tear or two, makes you think what a relationship is about especially when the people seem to be so opposite. It is so simple in its approach.”
“I would just hope the audience sees the dynamics of a friendship,” said Cle. “The companionship and irritation.”
Ron said he believes of Daisy and Hoke’s relationship, “in a different time, a different place, a different situation, it might have been more.”
The production will be performed Sept. 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 24 at 3 p.m. in the Willingham Theater. Tickets, which are $22, can be purchased online at www.yadkinarts.org, by calling the Willingham at 336-679-2941 or visiting the box office, or at the door on the day of the show.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.