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Stage 3's 'Miss Daisy' funny, sweet

John Bell, Hilah Elkins and Dennis Brown star in Stage 3’s production of ‘Driving Miss Daisy,' which was one of the theater's big draws. (Rich Miller)
John Bell, Hilah Elkins and Dennis Brown star in Stage 3’s production of ‘Driving Miss Daisy,' which was one of the theater's big draws. (Rich Miller)

SONORA -- "Driving Miss Daisy" has had immense success as both a Pulitzer Prize-winning play and an Oscar-winning movie because it tells a story that rings true.

There's something genuine about the lively banter between feisty Jewish senior citizen Daisy and her tolerant African-American chauffeur, Hoke. It's not surprising to learn that playwright Alfred Uhry modeled them after his grandmother and her driver.

Featuring stellar local actors Hilah Elkins and Dennis Brown, director Maryann Curmi's production at Stage 3 Theatre offers a heartwarming look at the pair's 25-year friendship. Funny, touching and sweet, the play covers such topics as aging, racial and religious prejudice and forgiveness.

The intimate show is a perfect fit for Stage 3's 80-seat space. "Driving Miss Daisy" debuted in 1987 in a similar-sized New York theater before moving to a larger off-Broadway theater.

The play ultimately was produced by theaters across the country and staged in London. The film version starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman was released in 1989.

Set in Atlanta, "Driving Miss Daisy" opens in 1948 when Daisy is 72 and crashes her new car. Against her wishes, her 40-something son insists that she stop driving and get a chauffeur.

Hoke, who is 60 and unemployed at the time, shows up for the interview and gets the job, eventually winning Daisy over and becoming her best friend.

Elkins shines as Daisy, exhibiting a great understanding of what makes this interesting character tick. Standing ramrod straight with her nose in the air, her Daisy is, above all, full of pride. She's always worried about what other people think, and her biggest fear is of appearing a fool.

Though she is stubborn and has strong opinions, she is nonetheless endearing because she has a big heart and is open to hearing new views. She just won't ever admit she made a mistake.

Brown is just as impressive as the amiable chauffeur. His Hoke is kind and patient with Daisy's idiosyncracies, but at the same time, he knows how to draw the line when she's gone too far. He treats her respectfully because he works with her, but he won't sacrifice his dignity.

Hoke doesn't understand Daisy at first but eventually grows to appreciate her spirit. He also is grateful when she teaches him to read and begins to overcome her prejudices and misconceptions about African-Americans.

As Daisy's son Boolie, John Bell is the rock who keeps everything together. His role is mostly to react with amusement to the antics of the other two characters. He does his best to keep both his mother and the chauffeur happy without making himself too crazy.

Diane Newington's elegant costumes fit the dressy style of mid-20th-century Deep South. The Victorian home set and skeleton car -- constructed by Ron Cotnam, Denny Anderson and Chris Sutherst -- are attractive and functional.

Because of the show's familiarity, tickets already are going fast and the production has been extended one week from its originally scheduled one-month run. Don't wait to pick up your tickets if you're interested in going. This one likely will sell out fast.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or millegan@modbee.com.

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