January 16, 2014

Review | Don’t miss ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ by Atlantic Stage in Myrtle Beach

Professional theater is well established on the Grand Strand, if you know where to look.

Professional theater is well established on the Grand Strand, if you know where to look.

A place that has been nourishing fine scripts, professional acting, technical folks and directing and a coterie of volunteers since 2008 is Atlantic Stage. The company is tucked away inside the 79th Street North Theater Education Department of Coastal Carolina University. The venue is a part of Coastal’s theatre arts program and offers an intimate theater experience.

Artistic Director Thom Penn selects shows that maximize the benefits of such a space to increase audience and actor rapport.

On stage now, “Driving Miss Daisy” is Atlantic Stage’s 30th production in the region. This Pulitzer Prize-winning play (which was also an award-winning movie) opened on Jan. 10 and will run through Feb. 2, with Thursday through Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday matinees. That leaves plenty of time for you to enjoy it as I did on Jan. 11.

The play spans 1948 to 1973 in a series of vignettes that chart the relationship between the feisty Daisy Wethern and the soft-spoken Hoke, who takes the job as her driver after Daisy has crashed her car and cannot get insurance.

“It’s a very personal story that unfolds against a backdrop of a very interesting time in U.S. history,” said director Gwendolyn Schwinke. “I find it a wonderful story about how people can change and learn no matter their age.”

To highlight that history, there are clips of real people, like Georgia’s Governor Talmadge, Martin Luther King Jr. and others, playing on computers in the lobby area along with a photo display from the Civil Rights era.

This particular production is a treat for anyone who enjoys theater and laughter with a side of deep thought. The show runs for 90 minutes without intermission. The minimalist set is deftly laid out in four parts, located in various locations on the stage area – Daisy’s living room, her son Boolie’s home, Boolie’s office and of course, the car.

Lighting and music power the transitions between the scenes that take place in each area. Those transitions are the only downside in this show. Several times the musical cues and transition times from once scene to another missed or were too long, but minor flaws in an otherwise excellent piece of theater. These flaws were quite forgivable because when the scene does light up, the acting simply glows!

Schwinke, an acting professor at Coastal, said she works hard to “hold the disparate creative energies of the actors together.” She certainly succeeds.

Daisy is superbly acted by Sandi Shakelford, an Equity actress who displays a great mastery of subtle humor and an equally great ability to portray the tragic effects of encroaching dementia in the later scenes with dignity. Also just right are the changes in Daisy as she goes from ignoring her driver to realizing his value as a man of honor and loyalty and at last as a true friend.

Al Mathias as Hoke hits just the right note as the loyal servant but man-to-be respected who grows to realize that the irascible Daisy has a kind heart.

Jason Adams plays Daisy’s son, Boolie. Adams provides the perfect comedic foil to the two older actors. His persona also shows other aspects of the struggle for civil rights; Boolie denies his own “Jewishness” to get ahead in the Atlanta business world of 1960s and early ‘70s. Adams also hits just the right notes in showing the character’s increasing respect for Hoke and continuing love for his difficult but wonderful mother.

While Adams and Mathias are not Equity members, they are professionals and it shows. The rapport among the three and each of them as pairs, mother /son, son/driver and Hoke/Daisy is superb as well.

“Driving Miss Daisy” will run Thursday through Sunday until Feb. 2. Don’t miss it!

Call 1-877-ATS-TKTS or go online at http://www.atlanticstage to reserve your tickets. Directions to the theater are on the site as well. Parking is free.

The website also shows the seating, making it easy to select the best seat for your group. Subscriptions offer reduced prices. Of course, if you don’t mind a side view, you can really get a bargain. .

For those who are thinking ahead, be sure to mark your calendars for “The Nerd,” an award-winning comedy by Larry Shue, which will run from March 20-April 13. A one-act play festival will round out the offerings for the season.

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