Camelot Theatre's next production features Shirley Patton and Steven Dominguez in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Driving Miss Daisy." The play explores the growth of a friendship between an elderly white Southern lady, Miss Daisy, and her African-American chauffeur, Hoke Colburn, during the 1960s and '70s.
Patton came to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the invitation of Angus Bowmer in 1958. Her career as an OSF actor spanned 30 years. Before coming to Ashland, Dominguez spent 20 years as a professional actor in New York City. One afternoon, the three of us chatted at Boulevard Coffee.
EH: This play is remarkable, isn't it?
SP: I think it's an extraordinary play. The playwright is so generous. He gives us everything we need to know.
SD: At first, I had problems with the play. I had my own reactions to the character of Hoke. I saw him as a stereotype. I thought we should let that period of history rest in peace. But now I have fallen in love with the play. Now, I've found it's quite challenging to get into the mind of this person. I'm still puzzling him together.
SP: We will be, probably until closing.
SD: The actor's work is bringing one's own knowledge and understanding of the world, and the way it works, to the stage. It's an interpretive art.
SP: We are puzzling our way through things. These characters are as complex as we are. These are rich, in-depth personalities. You can never fully know another person, or even know yourself. One thing that moved me was that the playwright based this play on the relationship between his grandmother and her chauffeur. He created people with strengths and flaws. They are very well-rounded.
SD: Our relationship is very complex; and yet there is a clear arc in our relationship.
SP: I trust that people that come to the theater will be willing to go on this journey with us. It's a wonderful story we've been handed.
EH: What makes a role satisfying?
SD: The most gratifying roles I have ever done resulted in complete immersion and understanding of the character to the point where every choice in every moment is just crackling and alive and right. It's clarity. I get this character, I know what I'm doing on stage; I can do no wrong at this point — the leap to that other level.
EH: What do you look for in a director?
SD: One that will hire me? (laughter)
SP: Yes. There you go. (laughter) Communication skills are the most important; when directors want something more from you that they are able to phrase it in a way that you can understand. It depends where you are in the process. Sometimes it's almost instantaneous. Sometimes it takes a while to move into that place.
SD: Communication is the key; we all have our own training. I trained in New York; Shirley trained at Stanford, and I've worked with other actors and directors. There is no standard training. There's definitely communicating, there's interpreting what the director is asking for, but also translating so that it works for the director as well as the actor. How do I take what the director just said (so that he gets what he wants), but also, how do I do it within my truth, within my training? It's fascinating. That's what makes it so wonderful.
SP: I just love exploring other lives. It makes the world so rich.
"Driving Miss Daisy," by Alfred Uhry, directed by Paul Jones, plays Jan. 29 through March 2. For reservations, call 541-535-5250 or visit the website www.CamelotTheatre.org. Camelot Theatre is located at Talent Avenue and Main Street in Talent.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.