It might be a bit of coincidence that actor Everett Collier drives nearly 80 miles from Bluffton, Ohio, to Fort Wayne every weekend to rehearse for his role as Hoke in First Presbyterian Theaters production of Driving Miss Daisy.
However, he says his love for theater is always willing to go the distance.
Well Ive played Hoke before, and I really liked the role. I thought I would try it once more since I have a little more free time – and my wife says it keeps me out of trouble, Collier says, laughing.
Starting today, First Presbyterians managing artistic director, Thom Hofrichter, brings together seasoned actors Collier and Kate Black for the heartwarming depiction of a friendship between a proud, Jewish woman and her patient black chauffeur over 25 years in Atlanta.
The 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning play was written by Alfred Uhry, who adapted the drama into a film starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. The film won four Oscars, including for best picture and best actress.
I would call it a contemporary classic. Its 25 years old this year, and its one of those plays that people keep doing because it still speaks to our need for friendship. It speaks to the natural tendency to devalue people that are different from us until were introduced to them, Hofrichter says.
Hofrichter says he already had local actress Kate Black in mind to play the feisty Daisy Werthan. However, he held auditions in August to play her counterpart, Hoke Coleburn. Hoke is an older black man looking for work in 1940s Atlanta.
Hofrichter says he was initially nervous to see that the auditions only attracted a small turnout for the lead role.
Fortunately, Everett shows up and he was perfect. We kind of shaped the rehearsal schedule for him, Hofrichter says.
Performing as an actor for more than 30 years, Collier says this isnt his first time he has traveled up to 80 miles to perform in a show. However, he has been able to devote more time to his acting since he retired two years ago.
He says the connections he forms with other actors make every performance rewarding.
No matter what show you do, you kind of form a family. You know somebody is there you can reach out to possibly, he says.
Black says that working with Collier has been an exciting experience.
Everett is wonderful. I couldnt imagine anyone else playing Hoke, she says. Hes a warm, grounded, down-to-earth person. Hes just absolutely perfect.
Black says that as much fun as it is to play the role, Daisys character has aspects that challenge the experienced actress. Besides attempting to age 25 years in a short amount of time, she says getting into the cultural context of the South presents another task for her.
There are certain qualities that are ingrained in this person. When we meet her, shes 72 years old. Shes been alive since the 1800s. Theres a lot going on there thats outside my reference in terms of embedded racism, she says. Shes really finding a need to climb out of those prejudices, but shes struggling against a lot of history. She succeeds sometimes, and sometimes she doesnt.
Facing the evolution of race and civil rights in the South from the 1940s to the 1970s, Hofrichter says the honest communication between Black and Collier will lead audiences to the right destination.
The situation and the circumstances, that is all pretend. However, the actual communication is the god honest truth. On stage you can pretend that someone is somebody else, but you cannot pretend to talk to them, Hofrichter says. Thats what a good actor does, and some people call it chemistry; its more about communicating the story and communicating with each other.