Jan Broberg, left, and Clarence Gillyard portray Daisy Werthan and Hoke Colburn, respectively, in the Neil Simon Festival’s version of Alfred
Jan Broberg, left, and Clarence Gillyard portray Daisy Werthan and Hoke Colburn, respectively, in the Neil Simon Festival's version of Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy/drama "Driving Miss Daisy." The production will run from Thursday, May 22, through Sunday, May 25, at the Egyptian Theatre. (Photo by Blake M. Farmer)
When Alfred Uhry's play "Driving Miss Daisy" premiered off-Broadway in 1987, it turned a lot of heads.

The play is about a Southern Jewish woman named Daisy Werthan and her African-American chauffer, Hoke Colburn, and the friendship the two develop over a span from 1943 to 1973 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Not only did actress Dana Ivey, who played Daisy Werthan, receive an Obie Award for her performance, the play was given the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama.

In 1989, the play was made into a film by director Bruce Beresford, and featured Jessica Tandy as Daisy. Morgan Freeman, who played Hoke in the original play, reprised his role for the film.

A year later, the film won four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress for Jessica Tandy, Best Makeup and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Park City will get a chance to see this charming play when the Neil Simon Festival presents it at the Egyptian Theatre from May 22 to 25.

"I've always loved the show, and it's so beautifully written," said Richard Bugg, founder and artistic director of the Neil Simon Festival during a phone call to The Park Record from his office in Cedar City. "It's about love, essentially. It's about two people who come from very different cultures that normally clash and they find a way to love each other and I think that's important for all of us."

The performance will feature Jan Broberg as Daisy and veteran TV and film actor Clarence Gillyard as Hoke.

The impetus of the Neil Simon Festival to do "Driving Miss Daisy" was that it had access to Clarence, who is a wonderful actor, Bugg said.


Gillyard is known for roles in "Walker Texas Ranger," "Matlock" and the films "Top Gun" and "Die Hard."

"I was looking for a piece to feature him in and this was the perfect piece," said Bugg, who directed the play.

The Neil Simon Festival originally produced the work in its 2012 season.

"It was so popular that we decided to take it out on the road," he said. "We plan to take it around to different venues around the region and, hopefully, across the country in the next year or two."

Gillyard accepted the role, but with some hesitation, Bugg said.

"Clarence was reluctant, because it's hard for any African-American man today to take on the characteristics of Hoke, lived in through the 1940, 1950s and 1960s," Bugg explained. "Hoke had to act a certain way in that time to get a job, keep the job and fit into the society. That was hard at first for Clarence to absorb to, but once he began to realize the power of the role and the transition and progression of this character, he understood how important it was to do."

Gillyard is the consummate actor and he was perfect to play Hoke.

"He's been performing on stages all over the world and I think audiences will find him remarkable and moving in this role," Bugg said.

Likewise, Broberg is exceptional in the role of Daisy.

"Since the time of the play spans 30 years, both characters age considerably," Bugg said. "We first see Daisy at an age where it's no longer safe for her to drive anymore. But then we see different changes in her as the nation's characteristics change over that three-decade span, and she represents those changes."

Throughout the play, Daisy doesn't consider herself a bigot.

"However, she is part of the culture, which bigotry was part of," Bugg said. "So you see her making these little self-discoveries throughout the work."

Bugg, who also plays Daisy's son Boolie, believes playwright Uhry, who is from Atlanta, did a brilliant job with his choice of words in the play.

"He captures the feel of the era and the speech of the people who lived it so beautifully," Bugg said. "[Alfred] has such an economy of words and doesn't waste a single one in this play.

"In my opinion, he didn't write it to condemn any culture for their weaknesses, but to show two individuals finding a way to respect each other," he said. "We have to look at that in our own lives. Every culture has wonderful things and terrible things in them."

The problem today is that the public appears to be compartmentalized in opinion and views, Bugg said.

"There are power mongers out there who are trying to put us in separate camps and not trust each other," he said. "I think we need to look past those barriers."

Ultimately, Bugg doesn't think the audience will walk away from seeing "Driving Miss Daisy" thinking it was teaching them to stop being bigoted.

"I think they will come away thinking it's a play that teaches us to love," he said. "I think the audience will also be surprised at the depth of feelings these two characters have for each other. They develop a deep love and respect over the decades."

"Driving Miss Daisy" is part of what is known as Uhry's "Atlanta Trilogy." The other plays include "Last Night in Ballyhoo" and "Paradise."

Bugg said when the Neil Simon Festival finishes its run of "Driving Miss Daisy," it may look into those other plays, but right now, the focus is on Daisy and Hoke.

"This is one of those gems of a production that you just don't want to miss," he said. "I can't imagine these two people who can fill these roles like Jan and Clarence."

The Neil Simon Festival will present the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Driving Miss Daisy" at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., from Thursday, May 22, through Sunday, May 25. Evening curtain for Thursday, Friday and Saturday is 8 p.m. Evening curtain for Sunday is 6 p.m. There will also be a 4 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets range from $23 to $32 and are available by visiting www.parkcityshows.com.