Saturday, April 26, 2008

Theatre Droppings: Miss Daisy drives by

I popped out to Front Royal, VA, to catch my buddies Elliot, Faith, and Jim, in a charming little play called Driving Miss Daisy. Ever hear of it? As opposed to the Oscar-winning film adaptation, this stage version is very much a chamber piece, played quite well by a trio of actors, with all of whom I have a bit of history.

I have not worked with Faith Potts, but have seen her work several times, and all of us who have worked on the Madness of Shear share a special kinship (she has often played the society matron Mrs. Shubert). I particularly enjoyed Faith quite a while ago in an Irish play called The York Realist at Studio Theatre. One of her costars in that production was a gal I went to grad school with, which is how I ended up in that audience.
Faith's rendition of the indefatigable Miss Daisy lent a robustness to the show which I did not expect.

Jim Fleming was playing Daisy's son, Boolie. I worked with Jim a few seasons back at Wayside, in an Agatha Christie thriller called Black Coffee. Jim dominated that production (rightly so) as the quirky Dutch detective Hercule Poirot, and I found him to be a most generous actor onstage. I was a last-minute replacement in the production, and unfortunately, was not cast into my strengths, so I came away from the experience hoping Wayside would one day ask me back to correct the rather mediocre impression I had left with them. In Driving Miss Daisy, Jim once again proved himself to be a sensitive (but savvy) character actor. He delivered every laugh, and every poignant moment, which the playwright could have wished.

Of the three cast members in the show, I have the most history with Elliot Dash, playing the chauffeur Hoke. Ell and I were in graduate school together, and as always happens with any MFA in Acting, we practically lived together for three years. On campus, we shared the stage in The Cherry Orchard, Measure for Measure, and Othello, and we performed in five productions at the Shakespeare Theatre Company during our internship. This was quite a while ago, and Elliot has matured into an actor of dignity and gravitas, as illustrated in his performance in Miss Daisy.

I'm so glad I was able to get out to see the show, which closed last night. There must have been even more poignancy to last night's final performance. It was Wayside Theatre's last performance in the Front Royal space, a theatre they created out of almost nothing a year ago, and have inhabited ever since. I've mentioned several times that Wayside was in temporary digs while their permanent home underwent renovation, but there was always the hope that this temporary theatre could turn into a permanent, second space for Wayside. That possibility has sadly disappeared, so Wayside will return to their single space in July.

I chatted a bit with Wayside's artistic director, Warner Crocker, and could detect some real disappointment that they were not able to continue to use the Front Royal theatre. Apparently, funding was in place, then was withdrawn. Probably a common occurrence in the life of a theatre like Wayside, but no less disappointing.

I intend to write a bit later about theatres such as Wayside, regional theatres which have been around for decades, have strong national reputations, but are often stymied by financial matters. These theatres operate on a lower tier than the regionals I referenced in my earlier entry. They struggle mightily to find the funds necessary for survival, and even more mightily for growth. When these theatres are located in areas more rural than cosmopolitan, that struggle is even harder.

I know Wayside's final performance in Front Royal must have had all the bittersweet qualities of the show they were presenting.