Dissing Miss Daisy

11/27/2010 01:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Gwen Davis Playwright, author, critic, songwriter

Far be it from me to look a Pulitzer Prize in the mouth, but the tiny off-Broadway play that brought Alfred Uhry one has been blown into great size, starring the towering Vanessa Redgrave and the glowering James Earl Jones. He is as convincing as always, having metamorphosed in one lifetime from a tragic young hero in the ring, to a villain in space, and back to earth again, where he is driving a stage set steering wheel on an imagined car (that moves a little on a revolving space that must have added plenty to the budget, as apparently even a falling leaf does nowadays).

The play into film that so captured hearts with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman was for me, at least, completely unmoving, due to the affectedly mannered Ms. Redgrave, who seems to have grown more stagy with every role, including those in films. Her last movie where she was reunited with long-ago love Franco Nero was filled with almost unbearable pauses, so when he galloped in on a white horse those who admired him once hoped he might canter away, before she could grip him with one of her breathy hesitations. A stronger match is James Earl Jones, whose majestic boom, even when controlled and seeming humbled is as strong as her feigned weakness. Jessica Tandy's growth in the role, her transformation as her driver became trusted friend, brought her an Academy Award. Ms. Redgrave's ultimately toothless -- through obviously stretched lips -- brought the audience -- present company excepted -- to its feet at the final curtain. But I could not help thinking that they were simply cheering the last Redgrave standing, as well as welcoming the formidable Mr. Jones back to Broadway.

A much more interesting coming together of wills, prejudices and intellect was available a few miles away at the West Side Y, in Freud's Last Session, a brilliantly imagined encounter between that analyst and C.S. Lewis, before the writer's emergence as a Christian theosopher and author. Mostly the arguments between them are about God, but there is enough of wit and human pain examined by the playwright, Mark St. Germain (suggested by 'The Question of God'), and enough truly impressive acting (by Mark H. Dold as the young professor Lewis, and Martin Rayner as a failing, suffering but still stubborn Freud) to make this member of the audience, at least, feel that a standing ovation was in order. I was only sorry that the play was ending its run, but am advised that it will be coming back. A true piece of theater, well worth the price of admission, considerably less than the ballyhoo further downtown.

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