Sisterhood Blog

The Timeless Lessons of Broadway's 'Driving Miss Daisy'

By Lillian Swanson

  • Print
  • Share Share
Annabel Clark
Vanessa Redgrave as a Southern Jewish widow in ‘Driving Miss Daisy’

Prejudice is so easy to embrace when it’s seen at a distance, and nearly impossible to sustain when viewed up close. Thus, in the story of “Driving Miss Daisy,” the revival now playing on Broadway, we watch a 72-year-old Southern Jewish widow drop her guard and learn over the decades to trust her black chauffeur. A true friendship blooms between them on the roads of Georgia and Alabama, and the play ends with a tender moment.

It’s a simple story with simple staging, which makes it possible to fully appreciate the magnificent gifts that the stars, Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, bring to the stage. Their gentle banter and the nuance and restraint they bring to their roles allow us to ponder anew the terrible thoughts that underlie what they say.

They are, in fact, navigating some of the most explosive thoughts — about race hatred and anti-Semitism — in the annals of human prejudice. But because the dialogue is delivered with a side of humor and a few helpings of hope, we come away feeling good, feeling that some progress has been made.

There’s lots that’s recognizably Jewish in the play. A tombstone with the Star of David, a can of salmon in the pantry, and the push and pull that many Jews feel about Christmas. It’s the Georgia Power Co. that will receive a big gift from all the Christmas lights on display, says Miss Daisy with disdain. And right after declaring that Jews have no business giving gifts at Christmas, she hands her chauffeur one, a book on handwriting.

The chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn, seeks the job of driving Miss Daisy because, he says, he was treated well by a previous employer, a Jewish judge. He remembers it was the non-Jews who tried to sell him some frayed clothing. “And they calls Jews cheap,” he says, shaking his head.

Ms. Redgrave, as Miss Daisy — a role made famous by Jessica Tandy, in the 1989 movie version of the story — sits in the rear seat, but never takes a back seat to her driver. And her driver, Mr. Jones, often gives as good as he gets, under terms of a black man in the South in 1948, of course. If mahogany could speak, it would sound like James Earl Jones. But in this play, because of the character he plays, that basso profundo is achingly absent.

Yet he doesn’t tone down the truth. He’s the first to tell Miss Daisy there’s been a bombing of the temple in town. At first, she doesn’t believe him. “Who would do that?” she asks. Then, she distances herself even further from being a target. “I’m sure they wanted to bomb the Conservative” synagogue instead, she says.

No, he tells her, “a Jew is a Jew.”

It’s the same blanket prejudice that he’s seen against those of his race. He says it reminds him of the time he saw a man he knew, the father of a friend, who was lynched from a tree and had “flies on his face.” The image still haunts him.

It is no wonder then, that when images of the Civil Rights marches from the 1960s and Martin Luther King Jr. are shown on a screen, the accompanying strains of “We Shall Overcome” reverberate in our hearts like a triumphant hymn.

The night I attended, the audience rose as one to applaud. For Redgrave and for Jones, for sure, and perhaps a little bit for us, and the road we’ve traveled away from prejudice.

“Driving Miss Daisy” is scheduled to run until January 30.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Vanessa Redgrave, Prejudice, James Earl Jones, Driving Miss Daisy

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.