Need a ride?
Before Uber and Lyft, there was Hoke Colburn.
Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Driving Miss Daisy is heading to Bristol. The play will be shown at Bristol Riverside Theatre from Jan. 24 until Feb. 12.
For a refresher on this classic, the play takes place in Georgia between 1948 and 1973. Daisy (played at Bristol by Lucy Martin) is a fiercely independent Jewish widow whose son, Boolie (Michael Samuel Kaplan), decides she is too old to drive herself anymore.
He hires Hoke (Marvin Bell), an African-American chauffeur.
Their tumultuous friendship, which has a rough start, develops over the years, transcending racial prejudice.
Amy Kaissar said she leapt at the chance to direct this play at Bristol.
She was the managing director of the theater from 2009 to 2014, and Jewish plays are often in her repertoire.
“I don’t know that I mean to, but I often end up doing shows that have strong Jewish themes,” she said. “I’m not sure that it’s something people ask me to do or I’m drawn to. It just sort of happens that way.”
It probably doesn’t hurt that her husband, Ken Kaissar, is a playwright whose works incorporate Jewish themes. They just finished touring one of his plays, A Modest Suggestion — which focuses on anti-Semitism and Jewish identity in a comedic light — at synagogues and JCCs.
Kaissar grew up Reform, but over the years she gradually started to celebrate Shabbat.
“It’s the central part of my community and social life,” said Kaissar, who belongs to Congregation Beth El in Yardley.
But when it comes to Judaism, she was unfamiliar with those themes in Driving Miss Daisy in her youth.
“It’s a play that I have known, but I’ve actually never seen it performed onstage,” she said. “I remember seeing the movie as a kid, and I don’t actually remember it so specifically being about the Jews of Atlanta. I was surprised when I went back to it and read it just how integral to the story and the characters Judaism is.
“That has certainly been a big part of our approach,” she continued. “You can’t get at these characters — Boolie and Daisy — without understanding their relationships to Judaism, which are very different from one another, their relationship to the temple in Atlanta and how it played into the civil rights movement.”
She said the play also grapples with themes of identity, friendship, otherness, independence and frustration with reliance on others.
The setting of the play straddles major years for Jews and African-Americans.
It begins in 1948, the year Israel became a state and the U.S. military desegregated for the first time. It was a year of the “very beginning of inclusion.”
Then, in 1973, came the Yom Kippur War, while over in Atlanta, the first Jewish mayor gave way to the first black mayor of the city.
“It’s impossible to hear those years and not realize that the playwright was saying something very specific,” Kaissar said.
In addition to its strong themes, Kaissar said the play is incredibly timely.
“When I was asked to do it, it was quite a while ago, and where we are nationally it just became more relevant,” she said. “The play, both in the history of the time and the history of [Daisy and Hoke’s] relationship, is about moving from inclusion — sort of forced inclusion — to acceptance.”
For Kaissar, the play has become personal for her, and is easily one of her favorites she’s directed.
“I feel like we’re in a moment of such divide, and as much as everyone else, I, too, feel frustrated by the other side and having to rely on people and wanting to be independent and wanting everyone to see things my way,” she explained.
Kaissar said “rising anti-Semitism” is no longer a distant concept, and it’s something she sees and feels in her community.
Although Driving Miss Daisy is not an allegory for today’s society or political commentary in any era, it focuses on the broader issues.
“There are different approaches we can take to each other and to the idea of being with the other and dealing with the other. These three characters present us three very different options,” she noted.
The characters eventually see through the facade and the stereotypes to discover the real people underneath, finding a way to “see people rather than ideas about people.”
“It speaks to our time because it speaks to all times,” she said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a moment in our history when this play wasn’t relevant.
“I hope someday it isn’t relevant.”
For more information or tickets, visit brtstage.org or call 215-785-0100.
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