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Wednesday, 11 October 2006 00:00

In the driver’s seat: ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ hits the Bryson City stage

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By Michael Beadle

Miss Daisy Werthan is an elderly Jewish widow who has gotten too old to drive herself, so she’ll have to hire a driver. In 1950’s Atlanta, that meant a white woman being driven by a black man. Initially, Miss Daisy refuses, but Hoke, the driver, puts her mind at ease, and the two develop a trusting friendship.

 

The heart-warming drama, “Driving Miss Daisy,” will be performed at the Smoky Mountain Community Theatre in Bryson City over the next two weekends, Oct. 13-15 and Oct. 20-23 with 7:30 p.m. performances and a pair of 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees. Tickets are $8.

The play, written by Alfred Uhry, follows the 1989 movie adaptation, “Driving Miss Daisy,” which starred Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman and won numerous accolades including four Academy Awards.

In Smoky Mountain Community Theatre’s rendition, Kay Sharpe plays Miss Daisy, Homer Coleman plays Hoke, and Lance Howe plays Boolie (Miss Daisy’s son). Teresa Maynard co-directs the show along with Sharpe.

It’s a play about realizing our own prejudices and learning to treat people with dignity, Sharpe explained.

At first, Miss Daisy and Hoke don’t get off on the right foot.

“There is a disdain for him,” Sharpe explained during a recent rehearsal. So Hoke has to slowly convince Miss Daisy of letting him do his job. Then, gradually, she acquiesces. “She realizes she needs him.”

By the end, despite their racial differences, the two sit at the same table — quite literally — to symbolize their equality and respect for each other.

“I think it’s one of the most beautiful plays,” Sharpe said.

While Miss Daisy may think she’s a “do-gooder” saying she’s not prejudiced, there’s a darker side to her personality — and those little shadows of prejudice lie in all of us to some degree, Sharpe explained.

“Just mouthing the words doesn’t make you not prejudiced,” Sharpe said, adding that the most insidious kind of prejudice is the subtle kind that’s less obvious. Most people aren’t willing to open up and see that part of themselves, Sharpe said.

The play also features a coming home of sorts for Sharpe’s co-star, Homer Coleman, who was born and raised in Swain County (just down the road from Bryson City along Galbreath Creek). Having grown up in segregated schools — graduating from Central High School in Sylva in 1956 — Coleman attended Howard University before signing up with the U.S. Army and spending 28 years in the military. He served in the Vietnam War and was stationed all over the world, mostly in the Far East. He concluded his career at the Pentagon, having top-secret clearances and meeting with top military leaders such as Gen. Colin Powell, and then worked with defense contractor Lockheed. In 1996, Coleman moved back to Bryson City.

“I was ready to come back home,” he said.

While he stays active doing local community service, he decided to give the theatre a shot. So when was the last time he was on stage?

Back in his high school days in 1954.

But Coleman seems right at ease, much like the character he portrays.

Throughout his military career, Coleman saw his share of racial prejudice — fellow African-American soldiers getting passed over for promotions — but he rejects the notion of being held back himself.

“Me personally, I didn’t have any problems, but it [prejudice] was there,” Coleman said. “I think it’s up to the individual.”

For more information about “Driving Miss Daisy” or upcoming shows at Smoky Mountain Community Theatre, call 828.488.8227 or go to the website www.smctheatre.com.

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