Legendary local actors Mical Whitaker, Carol Thompson and Alan Tyson will celebrate a milestone in mid-January by bringing the humor, warmth and social importance of “Driving Miss Daisy” to the Emma Kelly Theater.
Almost 10 years to the day that the trio, along with director Gary Dartt, first enthralled audiences with the local presentation of the highly-acclaimed and Pulitzer Prize winning play from Alfred Uhry, the four friends reprise their roles on the Jan Brown Anderson stage.
“Driving Miss Daisy,” exclusively sponsored by the Southern Manor Group, will be performed on Jan. 18-19 at 7:30 p.m. and on Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. Tickets to the reserved-seating shows are $18 ($16 for Averitt Center members) and $10 for students with proper ID and can be purchased from the Averitt Center website or by visiting or calling the box office at (912) 212-2787. A portion of the proceeds from the show’s run will go toward the Averitt Center’s Creative Growth Capital Campaign.
Set in Atlanta from 1948 to 1973, “Driving Miss Daisy” gracefully deals with issues of racial and religious prejudice and stereotypes, ageism, independence and friendship.
Elderly Daisy Werthan (Thompson) is a privileged and feisty widowed Jewish woman who resents the loss of her freedom after being forced to give up driving. Her son Boolie (Tyson) hires Hoke Colburn, a middle-aged black man, as his mother’s chauffeur. Hoke (Whitaker) manages to be exceedingly patient, quiet and respectful while maintaining his dignity amid Miss Daisy’s racist tirades. The unlikely pair eventually develops a close friendship.
“It is beautifully written,” Thompson said in a recent interview. “It speaks to relationships and how we as a people think that we aren’t prejudiced but our actions speak louder than our words. It’s also a very historical play. It spans 25 years and goes to show that the improvement of race relations and the development of a friendship takes time.”
Originally from Florida, Thompson made her stage debut as a high school senior and went on to major in theater and performance in college. After meeting and marrying her husband Dale, the pair was relocated every two to four years in their early marriage. She used the frequent moves to help build her theater experience and repertoire in community and professional theater across the South.
“Although I officially retired from performing in the late 80s, Daisy is a role I’ve always wanted to play,” she explained in a 2009 interview. “When Mical (Whitaker) and Gary (Dartt) started talking about this show, I decided to audition.”
Over the next decade, the foursome presented the play five times on the Emma Kelly stage (Jan. 16-18, 2009 and April 23-24 in 2010) and once each at the GSU Performing Arts Center (Aug. 29, 2015), the Mars Theatre in Springfield (Sept. 29, 2016), in Swainsboro for the Emanuel Arts Council (March 8, 2015) and in Waynesboro for the Waynesboro-Burke County Concert Series (Sept. 13, 2016).
“We so enjoy the response of the audiences,” said Thompson, who retired from Georgia Southern in August 2015 as the executive director of the Performing Arts Center. “We draw from their laughter, their sadness and their quiet understanding. We’ve had so many sweet letters from people about how the play has touched their lives. We’re letting them peek in through a window and seeing a slice of life in the deep South beginning in 1948 and running for 25 years.”
Whitaker is a professional actor and Georgia Southern professor emeritus in theater. A Metter native, his career has taken him to theaters and radio in New York, around the country, and back to South Georgia. At the time of his retirement, Whitaker had directed and/or acted in over 100 productions throughout his 23-year Georgia Southern tenure.
Whitaker was privileged to see one of the first stage performances of “Driving Miss Daisy” in an off-Broadway production. He was slightly disappointed that he missed the performance of his good friend, Morgan Freeman that night. Freeman created the role of Hoke for the stage production and re-created the role for the film version. The night Whitaker attended in New York, Freeman’s understudy, Earle Hyman, played the role.
“I really identify with Hoke,” Whitaker said. “This character could be my father, so I feel as if I know him well.”
Whitaker has studied Freeman’s classic portrayal of the character but “I don’t want to simply imitate Morgan’s version of the Hoke, I want to put my own stamp on the role.”
Tyson’s first stage appearance was in the early 90s as Fezzywig in “A Christmas Carol,” directed by Whitaker and performed in the old McCroan Auditorium. The Statesboro native and local businessman was bitten by the acting bug and has enthralled local audiences with many varied characters. He is thrilled to be back working with this cast and with Dartt (a GSU professor emeritus in theater) as the director.
“I appreciate the way Gary assists an actor in character development,” Tyson said. “He has let me work out who I think Boolie is, then spends time refining what I’ve brought to the character.”
Whitaker agreed with both Thompson and Tyson about the casting of “Driving Miss Daisy.”
“This is a dream cast,” he said. “We are all friends, we’ve worked together over these years — I’m working with people I’ve directed, for whom I’ve acted and Georgia Southern co-workers, it’s just a great group.”
“Every time we get together,” added Thompson, “we discuss the show, the emotions, the language, the movements and the physicality like we have never done it before. The play speaks to the four of us in such a meaningful and poignant way. We collaborate a lot and are always trying to make each performance better than the last. We always look forward to bringing Miss Daisy, Hoke and Boolie back to life.”