New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media

This article is from our magazine. To view it in its original format, click here

Driving Miss Daisy

By Gary Wien

originally published: 01/24/2018

Driving Miss Daisy

Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken will kick off 2018 with a production of Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry.  The play, set in the South between the late 1940s and early 1970s, explores an unlikely friendship between an elderly white Southern Jewish woman, Daisy Werthan, and her African-American chauffer, Hoke Colburn. The original production ran for nearly 1,200 performances and won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, while a 1989 film starring Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, and Dan Aykroyd won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The cast includes Barbara Broughton (Broadway’s Sunday in the Park with George), Count Stovall (Broadway’s A Streetcar Named Desire), and Matthew Lawler (MST’s Betrayal and ABC’s The Family). Mark Cirnigliaro will direct the production, which runs from January 31 through February 25.

New Jersey Stage spoke with Chris O’Connor, the Founding Artistic Director of Mile Square Theatre, about the play and the theatre itself.

You were searching for a work that dealt with the tension between race and class, but did you ever expect to have the play run during a period what race and racism are at higher levels than in decades?

After the election of Obama, with all the hope that it engendered, I never would’ve expected to see the times we are living in, in terms of race and racism. Perhaps I was naive. But Trumpism has succeeded in taking the anxieties of marginalized Americans and turning them against people of color and against immigrants. It’s truly alarming how brazen people are with their rhetoric, and they have been given free reign to spout hate.

The article continues after this ad


In seeking a play for February, a month when we celebrate and embrace African-Americans and the Civil Rights Movement, I looked at many plays that examined race. We have a small space with a limited budget, so I’m always led by cast size, and we are at a place in our development as a theatre where I must choose plays that will succeed at the box office. All of the plays I first looked at were by writers of color, but I could either not hit upon one that would draw a broad audience or I was denied rights. In the end, I decided to read Driving Miss Daisy, a play I’d only seen in the film version. I was deeply moved by it and in awe of its achievement as a work of drama. In the end, in contrast to the vitriolic political chatter, I love its gentle approach. It doesn’t deny the reality of racism, and it traces it through a period of American history, but it’s loving, gentle, and life-affirming. I think we can use a dose of all of those things.


Driving Miss DaisyHow do you see the parallels of the play and the current climate compare?

To me, it’s about acceptance and finding commonality. Now, more than ever, we need to operate from those impulses. In the beginning, Daisy rejects Hoke more out of stubbornness than bigotry, but bigotry hangs in the air culturally, and Hoke navigates it with such dignity. They ultimately discover how much they are alike and how much they need each other and they become the deepest of friends. Amazing and beautiful; a white southern Jewish society woman and an uneducated African-American man find commonality.


The play was extremely successful and led to a very successful film as well.  How does having that kind of recognition for a play help a regional theatre?

Well, it certainly helps to mention a title that people recognize! Even folks who have never seen it before are intrigued because they know something about it, mostly through the film. It’s also helpful to throw out the phrase “Pulitzer Prize Winner.” We’ve done plenty of exciting plays whose titles are new to audiences and we’ve had a challenge to explain what they are about (The Pavilion and Circle Mirror Transformation come to mind). This play is such a tour-de-force for the actors playing Daisy and Hoke, so that certainly draws some interest. When we held auditions for the play, several of the actors who came in to read for Hoke said it’s one of the most coveted roles for African-American actors.


The play has a strong cast including a pair making their debut with Mile Square.  How important is it for a theatre like yours to bring new actors into the mix?

Very important. We have a number of actors who appear on our stage from time to time, and they comprise somewhat of a company (actors like Matt Lawler, Blaire Brooks, Annette Hammond, and John Keller work with us a lot). But we can’t be insular and we want to draw new people all the time. We were fortunate to have TV/Film star Richard Masur in The Net Will Appear, and the entire cast of The 39 Steps was new to MST. Plus when you cast a show like Driving Miss Daisy, you really have to cast a wide net to get the best actors available. We worked with Judy Bowman Casting for this show and she brought in so many amazing actors, all with incredible credits on Broadway and in film and TV. We are thrilled to have Count Stovall and Barbara Broughton in the show.


Driving Miss DaisySome people think Mile Square Theatre is a bit of a secret in Hudson County and around the state.  What would you like people to know about the company?

I can’t tell you how often people in Hoboken come to the theatre, take in a show, are blown away by it, and say, “I never knew we had a professional theatre in our town!” It’s been an uphill climb to draw people’s attention. We spend more funds on marketing than ever before, and that’s helping shine some light on us. And it’s been easier to draw the press so we’ve been getting more reviewers in the door. Our first New York Times review was for Circle Mirror Transformation. It was a good one and it helped double our box office, but as you know, The Times no longer reviews in Jersey. I want people to know that there is some very exciting theatre being produced in an intimate venue that rivals the best theatre in New Jersey and New York City. We have amazing actors working with us and our designers are topnotch. And our tickets are really affordable!


How has the move to the Artisan helped the theatre?

It’s been a total game changer in so many ways. Having a venue that has a street presence in itself is advertising. People walk by it, clock that it’s there, and we’re suddenly on their radar. It’s a beautiful space and people are always impressed when entering the venue. The move has forced us to be a much more robust organization. Suddenly, we have a facility to maintain; there are utility bills and maintenance and other facility costs that we never had to contend with before. So we have to keep it active to pay for it. In our first year, we were focused on producing as many things as possible. We presented five mainstage shows and many smaller events, and it almost killed me! The board wisely reined that in to a four-play season, and we are more thoughtful about additional events. We still present 7th Inning Stretch and Broadway Night at MST, plus readings and other special events, but we have to be careful about burning ourselves out. We are constantly seeking rental income, so there are many non-MST events that occur here. Our rental rates are reasonable by design. It’s in our mission to encourage arts events and community events, so the facility is used by local schools and area arts organizations. The move has also spurred more aggressive fundraising to keep the doors open. Our annual budget has grown significantly and we carry a construction loan for the build out, so our capital campaign continues. We would love to find a naming sponsor for the theatre. Any suggestions?

Our audience is certainly getting bigger, but to my mind, we need to expand the base to a size that we can always count on enough to come to any given show that we’ll have nearly full houses. As a regional theatre, we do a variety of plays, and we know our audience won’t come to every show. Expanding our audience base will allow us to take more artistic risks. At this point, we are certainly producing wonderful plays, but I feel I need to guarantee a certain level of broad appeal to keep the audience expanding.

Driving Miss Daisy

Mile Square Theatre is located at 1400 Clinton Street, Hoboken. For more information visit:

For more by this author, click here

Pebble Players Presents "Heathers, the Musical: High School Edition"
(SUMMIT, NJ) -- Celebrating their 10th season, Pebble Players has been entertaining Summit residents and audiences from surrounding towns with sophisticated Off-Broadway quality performances. The 2018 Season opens with "Heathers The Musical: High School Edition," directed by Jayne Myers and choreographed by Jaimie Woodruff.  Performances are Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17 at 7:30pm and Sunday, November 18 at 2:00pm. 
NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies from Thursday, March 21, 2019 - Saturday, March 23, 2019. The high-style music of “The Duke” is the heart and soul of this 1981 Tony-winning Broadway hit, directed with dazzle by André De Shields (The Wiz). Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington, re-creates the original show’s elegant dancing and tapping as choreographer.
Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater present Teahouse by Lao She
(PRINCETON, NJ) --Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Teahouse by Lao She on November 16, 17 and 18 at 8:00pm and November 17 at 2:00pm in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. Teahouse is considered a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese theater, spanning 50 years in modern Chinese history from the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Republican Revolution to the birth of the People’s Republic, bringing together over sixty characters who represent all walks of life. The production is directed by senior Changshuo Liu.
Axelrod's Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program Presents "Peter Pan"
(OCEAN TOWNSHIP, NJ) --  A family musical that’s perfect for the holiday season, “Peter Pan” is flying onto the Axelrod stage December 8-16. Axelrod’s award-winning Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts program presents one of Broadway’s timeless classics in a fully staged production directed by Lisa Goldfarb with musical direction by Randy Hurst and choreography by Wendy Roman.  
Mile Square Theatre Presents It’s a Wonderful Life: a live radio play
(HOBOKEN, NJ) --  Mile Square Theatre, Hudson County’s leading professional theatre, revives its beloved production of It’s a Wonderful Life: a live radio play by Joe Landry. Mile Square Theatre becomes a live recording studio in the golden age of radio, and MST theatre goers become the studio audience as WMST “goes on air” to broadcast Frank Capra’s popular holiday story. The production begins performances on Thursday, November 29 and runs till Sunday, December 23.  

Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
Jennifer Fawcett’s new play centers around a mother in a kitchen, doing something countless people across America will take part in over the upcoming holiday season: making an apple pie.
See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!
"It's a Blast!" Go See Rock of Ages 10th Anniversary Tour NOW! at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino!
The five-time Tony award-nominated Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, returns to the stage with a 10th Anniversary Tour at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino! Performed in the venue’s ultra-modern Sound Waves theater, Rock of Ages runs from now until November 4, 2018.
There's One In Every Family: "Charley's Aunt" at The Shakespeare Theatre
On stage now through November 18 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, “Charley’s Aunt” is described as “part Oscar Wilde, part ‘Fawlty Towers,’ with a dash of South American spice!” This side-splitting British farce from 1892 has drag, mistaken identity, romance and plenty of physical comedy. Join Jesse and Dave at rehearsals in Florham Park to hear from the cast and director what makes this such a hilarious and enduring show.

Event calendar
Tuesday, Nov 13, 2018


MARCUS KING BAND WITH SPECIAL GUEST IDA MAE @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

Gunhild Carling & Friends @ Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, Morristown - 8:00pm

Toto—40 Trips Around the Sun @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm

Newark History Society Sarah "Sassy" Vaughan: The Life and Legacy of Newark's Own @ The Chase Room @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 7:00pm

Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird @ Pollak Theatre @ Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 8:00pm

Visiting Writers: Michael Waters @ Wilson Auditorium at Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 4:30pm


Seeger @ The Theatre at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCCArts), Branchburg - 1:00pm and 7:00pm

THE CHOIR OF MAN @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

OPEN Auditions for Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage @ Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, Maplewood - 7:00pm

Auditions: Cinderella or the Story of Bigfoot @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 6:30pm

View all events


For more on our awards, click here

New Jersey Stage © 2018 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 |

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.