Stage life and real life meet unexpectedly in a current production of Albert Uhry's "Driving Miss Daisy."
The story of a difficult, elderly Southern Jewish woman, her black chauffeur and the bond that grows between them over the years, is a simple, yet nuanced play that pivots upon the prejudice visited upon both African-Americans and Jews.
At the Actor's Theatre of New Orleans, another element of the story plays an even more important part: the increasingly frailty of Miss Daisy, a proud woman attempting to deny, indeed defy the inroads that age and illness are taking on her.
That Pauline Prelutsky, the actress playing Daisy, is going through this same struggle, adds a layer of verisimilitude to the character while at the same time taking us out of the play. Ultimately, the drama we're watching is a real one, that of a performer and her determination to play this part.
Prelutsky has no trouble creating her own Daisy and there are moments when she is the crotchety, suspicious, sharp-tongued biddy come to life. But there are also moments of uncertainty, as she searches for a line or word, and scene waits as she is guided on and offstage in blackouts.
Timothy Bellow, the actor playing Hoke, the wise, easy-going chauffeur, is too young for the part. But Bellow suggests age in his movement, demeanor, delivery and increasingly grayed hair. Beyond that, he gallantly helps Prelutsky with a line nudge now and then. He grounds the play by being firmly in it. Strapping Mike Schultz ably plays Daisy's son, Boolie, as a matter-of-fact good ol'boy.
It didn't help matters that the technical end of the production was sloppy the night I saw it, with ill-timed light and sound cues. Cell phones could be heard going off backstage. The longish blackouts were made bearable by jazz selections from "The New Orleans Street Beat," with director Rebecca Hale's husband, Richard Hale, on drums.
Scenic elements are minimal and it's hard to judge what Hale has brought to the play other than a supportive climate for Prelutsky and the natural performances of Bellow and Schultz.
It's understandable for an audience to feel uneasy when it sees a fragile actor straining to fulfill a role. But after Prelutsky landed some solid laughs, it was hard not to be impressed with her courageous effort.
Prelutsky has delighted local audiences in many roles over the years and here, for those willing to look beyond the obvious, she gives us the drama of the human spirit.