Just talking about her latest undertaking, "Driving Miss Daisy," causes director Cathe Hall-Payne to choke up. At the heart of the play is the relationship between Daisy Werthan, or Miss Daisy, and Hoke Colburn, the black chauffeur who has been hired to drive the elderly white Southern Jewish woman around town, despite protests from her that she doesn't need assistance.
"You watch this friendship blossom because the truth is Miss Daisy is lonely," Payne said. "It's sort of like an odd couple."
Presented by the New Depot Players, "Driving Miss Daisy" is set to run April 25-27 and May 2-4 at 8 p.m.; and April 28 and May 5 at 3 p.m. at Center Street Arts' black box theater, 910 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers. General admission tickets are $20; tickets for senior citizens over 60 and students with ID are $16.
Written by Alfred Uhry in 1987, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is the first in the Atlanta Trilogy, which focuses on the city's Jewish community in the early 20th century. "Driving Miss Daisy" takes place over a span of 25 years beginning in 1948 and is a series of scenes between Miss Daisy, who begins the play at 72, and Hoke, 50 at the start of the show.
The drama begins when Miss Daisy crashes her new car while backing it out of the garage, and her son, Boolie, insists that she hire a driver to transport her. Boolie employs Hoke, who sits in Miss Daisy's house for a week before she allows him to drive her.
When she does relent, she is a back-seat driver, shouting directions to Hoke, and somewhat embarrassed to let her friends see that she has a chauffeur, lest they think she is pretentious.
At other points in the play, Miss Daisy falsely accuses Hoke of stealing from her, and on a long road trip, she refuses to allow Hoke to stop and use the bathroom -- though he does so anyway.
"In the beginning, we realize there might be a little prejudice there and we watch her grow and become friends with Hoke," Payne said.
When Miss Daisy learns that Hoke is illiterate, she teaches him how to read.
"(And Hoke teaches her) kindness and friendship," said Payne. "He (also) teaches her that there is prejudice in the world and it's not just against black people."
Audiences witness Miss Daisy's decline into dementia and her eventual placement into a nursing home. Hoke, driven by his granddaughter by the end of the play, visits Miss Daisy in the home.
Payne said the show is a tear-jerker, for sure, but one that is so touching, she couldn't resist it.
"I usually do comedies. This is my first serious play," said Payne, a Tucker resident who directed "The Red Velvet Cake Wars" for the New Depot Players last year, and who has been involved in theater for more than three decades. "The amazing thing is I shy away from serious plays but I love this play so much I thought, 'I'm just going to do this.'"
Playing Miss Daisy is Bobbie Elzey, a veteran of television and theater who played Sister Aloysius in the New Depot Players' production of "Doubt." Hoke is played by Nat Martin, who has performed the role in several productions throughout Atlanta. In the role of Boolie is Tom Johnson, a longtime New Depot Player actor and director who is now president of the community theater company.
"'Driving Miss Daisy' is a lovely story. It's something that everyone can relate to," Payne said. "It's all about the story. It's not about the set or the costumes. I told the actors they could do it in T-shirts and jeans. When you see these people tell this story, it's just beautiful."
Payne said audience members may want to consider an early Mother's Day outing to see a performance.
"Southern women love this story, and Southern people love this show," Payne said.
To purchase tickets, visit www.thenewdepotplayers.com.