Driving Miss Daisy, Alfred Uhry’s award-winning drama about the transformative power of friendship, will grace the Ford’s Theatre stage this fall. Acclaimed Washington stage actors Nancy Robinette and Craig Wallace will tackle the complicated roles of Daisy Werthan and Hoke Colburn. When Daisy causes a car wreck, her son hires hard-working chauffeur Hoke to look after her. What begins as a hostile clashing of wills between a stubborn Jewish matriarch and a proud black man evolves into a decades-long friendship as the two navigate Civil Rights-era Atlanta.
We recently asked actors Nancy Robinette and Craig Wallace to tell us about their hopes for the production and their careers as Washington, D.C., actors.
Robinette and Wallace first came into contact with Driving Miss Daisy when the movie came out in the 1980s, because, as Wallace explained, “You had to see everything Morgan Freeman did in those days!”
When the opportunity to play these intriguing roles came to their attention in Washington, both Robinette and Wallace jumped at the chance.Daisy and Hoke are both stubborn, yet likable. They are complex characters full of contradictions. Nancy Robinette hopes to explore the strong-mindedness and independence of Daisy. She explains, “As a woman of a certain age myself, I certainly feel sympathy with her wanting to remain independent; to have enough control, for instance, to learn all those lines!”
Craig Wallace finds his similarities to Hoke elsewhere saying, “I too have a temper … but it’s hard to find.”
Wallace hopes to delve into Hoke’s complexities throughout the rehearsal process. Wallace describes Hoke as patient, compassionate and as someone who “has a sense of humor in a time when he could be angry, bitter and mean. But who knows, maybe he’s those things, too.”
Though Driving Miss Daisy was written in 1987, it deals with a lot of issues that are still very relevant today. If your parents told you it doesn’t belong in polite dinner conversation, you can probably find it in Driving Miss Daisy. Race, religion and class are all explored within the context of the play. There is no doubt that with this gifted cast, Driving Miss Daisy will handle these issues with dignity and grace.
Robinette is not intimidated by the challenge of facing these issues: “I see the theatre as a wonderfully safe place to examine life’s issues and questions—how we treat each other, how we learn from each other. When you think about it, every play is a love story of some kind.”
Wallace has a very selfless perspective of how to tackle hot-button topics. He explains that individual opinions are not what matter. As storytellers, he believes that cast members need to focus on “serving the play and telling the most effective story.” Wallace is aware that the show will elicit many different reactions from different people, but all he asks is that audiences “sit, listen, allow and hopefully … enjoy!”
Both Robinette and Wallace have had long and illustrious careers spent primarily on D.C. stages. Wallace says that he has found D.C., to be full of opportunities, and Robinette loves the unique collaborative quality of the D.C. theatre community. “We have audiences that are adventurous and support a variety of plays and styles,” Robinette explains. The two have worked together multiple times (most recently in The Government Inspector at Shakespeare Theatre Company). Wallace considers Robinette an old friend. Robinette explains, “We’ve worked out a lot of stuff between us, creating, in a sense, a collective body of work. We don’t have to start from scratch every time we work together.”
Both also have worked at Ford’s Theatre in the past and have nothing but kind things to say about their experiences performing on the historic stage and working with the Ford’s crew. Robinette describes Ford’s Theatre as having a “feeling of family,” and Wallace states that the reason he keeps coming back to Ford’s is, “The people, hands down. Ford’s Theatre cares so much for their artists and artisans. It’s a well-oiled machine.”
D.C. has very few actors that have been as holistically successful in their careers as these two talented individuals. So what advice do they have to offer to those trying to make a career out of acting? Wallace explains that the Washington-Baltimore region is full of teaching opportunities, voice-over and movie work, and stage opportunities for actors. He recommends watching a video of Jim Carrey and doing what it says.
Robinette’s advice for those passionate about the arts is short and sweet: “Do it! Give yourself permission.”
Alex Johnson is former Ford’s Theatre Marketing and Communications Intern. Originally from Northern Virginia, Alex is an aspiring actress.