Hackmatack Playhouse may be in southern Maine, but for the next week, patrons will feel like they are in the Deep South.

The playhouse is closing its 41st season with a charming rendition of “Driving Miss Daisy” that’s a testament to the power of friendship. As Daisy Werthan discovers, friendship can transcend gender, race and social class.

The play is set in Atlanta and spans a quarter-century in the lives of Daisy (Tinka Darling) and Hoke Coleburn (Michael Turner).

When Daisy, at age 72, becomes unfit to drive, Hoke is hired by her son, Boolie (Jay Rodger), to be her chauffeur. It is the late 1940s, when $2,700 bought a brand-new Packard and $20 was a decent weekly wage. The notion that a well-to-do Jewish woman living in the South could become best friends with a black man was simply unheard of.

Seasoned actors Darling and Turner slip into their roles like a comfortable pair of well-worn driving gloves. And they take the audience on an enjoyable ride as their spirited characters unwittingly map out a lifelong friendship.

The friendship has an entertainingly rocky start with Daisy asserting her independence by refusing to let Hoke drive her anywhere. Hoke finally wears her down after six days — “the same amount of time it took the Lord to make the world,” he quips.

With only a few chairs, a table, two phones and a steering wheel as aids, a story unfolds that speaks volumes.

The passage of time is marked primarily by the actors’ body language and mannerisms, with grayed hair and growing waistlines adding emphasis.

Darling’s hand visibly shakes as her aged character grasps a cup of coffee, and Turner’s upright posture become stooped as he slowly makes his way across the stage.

Darling and Turner do an excellent job developing the onstage friendship. Their interaction is lively and touching. And as the friendship grows, so does our fondness for the characters.

Rodger adds to the delightful on-stage chemistry as Daisy’s son. Boolie is perhaps best described by the endearing term he uses for his mother: a doodle. Like Daisy, he’s animated, funny and colorfully drawn.

Although not actually characters, Shari Lockhart and Adam MacDougall deserve mention for their roles as “attendants.” They set each scene with dancelike grace, shaping the audience’s imagination as they turn kitchen chairs into classic cars.

An eye-catching, symbolic mini-wall of picture frames by scenic designer Jerard-James Cravens cleverly hides Lockhart, MacDougall and unused props between scenes.

“Driving Miss Daisy” is a sweet and fitting way for Hackmatack to usher out the summer season. It’s sure to keep patrons’ hearts warmed until Hackmatack welcomes its theater friends back in 2014.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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