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5 Things to Know: A little older and wiser, Ed Burke drives back to ‘Miss Daisy’

Ed Burke is making a habit of this “Driving Miss Daisy” thing. He played the pivotal role of Hoke Coleburn — the black chauffeur who forges an unlikely friendship with the white Jewish woman he drives in the segregated days of the Deep South — in the 1992 Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre.

Pictured above: Mary Piona and Ed Burke in ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’ Photo: Good Company Players

Now he’s reprising the role 25 years later in the company’s first revival of the title. (It opens Friday, Jan. 4, and continues through Feb. 24.)

OK, maybe once every 25 years isn’t exactly a habit, but it’s still impressive.

Here are 5 Things to Know about Burke, a Fresno arts-scene fixture:


1.

He’s a co-founder of Good Company Players.

The U.S. has its Founding Fathers (and all the origin-story mythical reverence devoted toward them). GCP has its own founders as well, and Burke is one of them. (Who knows? Maybe one day he’ll appear on a coin.) He ran around with managing director Dan Pessano at Fresno State back in the 1960s theater glory days, and the pair has remained tight. Burke appeared in a bunch of GCP shows including “Dreamgirls” and the original musical “Lyin’ Up a Breeze.”


2.

You probably know him for his music.

Born and raised in Fresno, Burke started playing music and singing in his church choir at age 5. To say he comes from a musical family is an understatement as big as Daisy’s 1963 Cadillac. Burke’s aunt, Evelyn McDonald, was his first piano teacher. His first cousin, Stan McDonald, who has since passed away, was Audra McDonald’s father (and played drums in Burke’s band in high school). For decades, various members of the extended McDonald clan have played music professionally.

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“A lot of people know me for my music because I’ve been doing it so long,” he says.

3.

He’s been away from the stage for a while.

The wonderful local musical “Lyin’ Up a Breeze,” written by Duane Boutte and Terry Miller, was performed in 2002. That was Burke’s last time on the GCP stage until now.

But never fear: All those decades performing music have made him so comfortable in front of people that he has no qualms about picking up a script again.


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Did he remember any of the lines when he started back at “Daisy” rehearsals?

He laughs in response. What do I think he is, some sort of human hard drive? He still had a lot of memorizing to do.


4.

He likes the play even more than the movie.

What he did find he remembered, however, was a feeling and appreciation for the character in Alfred Uhry’s 1987 play. Most people know the title, of course, because of the 1989 movie starring Morgan Freeman as Hoke and Jessica Tandy as Daisy.

“Twenty-five years 25 ago when I did the role, I had seen the movie, but until I did the role, I had never seen the play. I think I understand it better — how well written it is, and the character development.”

Good Company Players

Ed Burke in ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’

He thinks the play has held up well over the years in terms of its relevance to racial issues, particularly when talking about the South. Playgoers have to remember that it’s a period piece, he says. And while much has changed for the good in this country in terms of race relations, a lot hasn’t, unfortunately. At the same time, the interpersonal power dynamics between Hoke and Daisy (played by GCP veteran Mary Piona) in the play can be problematic for some.

“I know a lot of people, especially younger people, have trouble with the content of the play,” he says. “But they’re only looking at the obvious. When you look at the state of race relations in the South in the 1940s through the 1960s, it was totally different than today.”

To him, the play is more about the distinctive relationship forged between Hoke and Daisy — a sign of hope that people of different backgrounds can come together despite the superficial differences.


5.

During the run of “Miss Daisy,” someone special to him is behind the scenes.

Remember the part about being from a performing family? Kiana Burke, a student at Bullard Talent and a budding performer herself, is working as a crew member on the production throughout the run. It’s a great way to spend time with her grandfather.

The lineage continues.

“She actually goes with me every night,” Burke says. “We go together.”


Show info

‘Driving Miss Daisy,’ a Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre. Opens 8 p.m. Friday, Jan.4, and continues through Feb. 24. Tickets are $20 general, $18 students and seniors.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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