Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711

Driving Miss Daisy was the first play that Alfred Uhry wrote, and he based it on people he had known growing up in the South, particularly his grandmother and her driver. The play's original schedule called for it to run for five weeks at Playwrights Horizon, a New York nonprofit theater that seated an audience of seventy-four. When the five-week run was up, the play was extended another five weeks, and when that was up, the play moved to a bigger theater. A year and a half later, the show was still playing in New York, and also around the country. Uhry also won the Pulitzer Prize.

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Audiences and critics immediately responded to the play, even when its premise seemed distinctly unpromising. In American Theatre, Don Shewey recalls his experience:

I remember trudging upstairs ... to see a play that sounded distinctly unpromising. It was about—gads!—an elderly white woman and her black chauffeur. On one hand, it sounded politically unsavory: Have we progressed no further than portraying African Americans onstage as servants. On the other hand, it sounded theatrically too dreary for words: How could it be anything but a parade of predictable Sunday-school pieties about how we're all alike under the skin and we should all get along? I personally resisted every inch of the way the feeling I left the theatre with that night: Wow, [this] is a good play!

Critics commented on the play's appeal, in fact, often using that very word. In the New York Times, Mel Gussow refers to the play's ‘‘homespun appeal’’ and its ‘‘renewed sincerity.’’ Robert Brustein writes in the New Republic that the play "has both appealing brevity and considerable quality.’’ He calls viewing the play "an experience of considerable power and sensitivity.’’ These critics, along with others, responded to the play's basic humanity and the truths it told. ‘‘It is the work of decent people,’’ writes Brustein, ‘‘working against odds to show how humans still manage to reach out to each other in a divided world.’’ Judy Lee Oliva, in Contemporary Dramatists, says that "Driving Miss Daisy is a play about dignity in which all the characters strive to hold onto their personal integrity.''

The play deftly presents an overview of the changing values and times in the South. Spanning from 1948 to 1972, the play alludes to important themes of the twentieth century, such as racism and prejudice. Its focus on the relationship between two people allows for a more personalized view of historical realities. Oliva notes that the play is "representative of a time in history and tells about that time via this one story.’’ However, as Gussow points out, "history remains background. The principal story is the personal relationship, the interdependence of the two irrevocably allied Southerners.’’

Critics overwhelmingly warmed to the characters, who carried this play smoothly along: the crusty...

(The entire section contains 711 words.)

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