Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

An inside look at Driving Miss Daisy

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

by C. Michael Wright
Director and MCT Producing Artistic Director

DRIVING MISS DAISY is my first collaboration with Scenic Designer Steve Barnes. So when we initially met to discuss how we might approach our production, we got to know each other by gently bouncing ideas back and forth. One of the challenges of this script is that the action occurs in multiple locations and spans from 1948 to 1973. We arrived at one decision very quickly, that we needed to create an environment where the action could move smoothly and economically from one location and time period to the next.

I remember saying that the play's many short scenes reminded me of interlocking puzzle pieces (I've always loved jigsaw puzzles!) that slowly come together to present a full picture - of a friendship and of an era. Steve said he saw Daisy's home as a fragment of a dollhouse, as structured and confined as she was.

wyeth

"That Gentelman," Andrew Wyeth, 1960

It was especially important to me that we make the Cabot performance space more intimate for the simplicity of the story-telling. I suggested having "portals" that might frame the stage to push the action toward the center and restrict the playing area. The backs of these portals could also provide storage shelves and hooks for various props and costume accessories, which actors could easily grab or deposit en route for ease of movement.

Eventually we concluded that Daisy's living room would be represented by a single platform with a floating window, her easy chair and a few other select pieces of furniture. We decided that to depict Daisy's car(s), we would use only two chairs, a comfortable, ornate one from Daisy's world and a much plainer, simpler one for Hoke.

For visual inspiration, we began studying a multitude of road images, automobiles, faces and clothing over those specific twenty-five years. We found ourselves particularly drawn to black and white photographs from old Life magazines. Then we looked at Andrew Wyeth's paintings of people and landscapes; we liked his soft, subtle textures and muted earth tones.

The framing portals offered Steve an opportunity to cleverly incorporate both elements, old photo images along with touches of Wyeth. Steve chose to hang three similar panels, which would float in the back, to tie it all together. (These are wonderfully reminiscent of my original vision of jigsaw puzzle pieces!) Along with these flat images, Steve has also designed some three-dimensional scenic pieces to fill out the landscape, including grassy hills, a tree and a telephone pole, complete with a telephone wire connecting the dimensional telephone pole with a flat image of one.

Ultimately, I think that's what this beautiful play is all about: people connecting over time.


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