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September 5, 2013

Hitting top gear

Veteran actors Lindsay Crouse, Johnny Lee Davenport star in 'Driving Miss Daisy'

Lindsay Crouse, the consummate actress, and Johnny Lee Davenport, whose voice commands the audience’s attention, will star in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Driving Miss Daisy,” which opens tonight at Gloucester Stage Company, closing out the theater group’s season.

This story, set in the era of the Civil Rights movements, contains both comedy and drama. The central focus is the developing friendship between an elderly widow, a retired sixth-grade teacher in Atlanta, and her newly hired black driver. After she has a car accident, her son arranges for her to have a driver, much to her chagrin.

Georgia playwright Alfred Uhry is the only playwright ever to win the “Triple Crown” for his writing, having captured an Oscar, a Tony, and a Pulitzer Prize. This play is the first of the playwright’s “Atlanta Trilogy.” In addition to the stage version, the film version of “Driving Miss Daisy” won an Academy Award and the film itself was voted Best Picture of the Year. Uhry’s second play in the trilogy, “Last Night of Ballyhoo,” commissioned for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, opened on Broadway in February 1997, and won the Tony Award.

Davenport became an instant favorite locally when he made his Gloucester Stage debut last year in the Independent Reviewers of New England award-winning production of “Master Harold … and the Boys.”

Born in 1950, Davenport is no stranger to life as a black American more than a half a century ago. He was raised in Shrevesport, La., where he experienced segregation firsthand. He had to drink from “colored only” drinking foundations and use restrooms set aside for “colored” people. He had to get off the boardwalk when white people were coming. As a teenager, he moved north to Illinois where he attended Aurora West High School.

“I went from an all-black environment to a high school where there were 606 in my class, and six of us were black,” said Davenport, who became class president.

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