Alfred Uhry’s plays are revered wherever they’re produced, but as a native son, he is especially celebrated in Atlanta. His much-lauded “Driving Miss Daisy” played for two years at the Alliance Theatre, during the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons, making it one of the city’s longest-running plays. “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” the second play in Uhry’s Atlanta Trilogy, premiered at the Alliance in 1996. (“Parade,” the final part, opened in New York in 1998.) The Oscar-winning movie adaptation of “Daisy” (1999) was filmed here, and many still treasure their experiences as extras.
“There’s a fierce sense of pride in being able to claim this Oscar-, Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer as one of Atlanta’s,” says Alliance Artistic Director Susan Booth.
After some time away, Uhry has returned home with a new play: the Alliance is premiering his “Apples & Oranges,” which opens on the Hertz Stage Friday, October 5, and will run through October 28. Based on a 2008 memoir by Vanity Fair writer Marie Brenner and directed by Lynne Meadow of the Manhattan Theatre Club, it centers on the dynamic between a brother and sister and their dysfunctional relationship.
Marie, played by Patricia Richardson of television’s “Home Improvement,” is a respected New York journalist. Her brother Carl (Tony Carlin) is an apple farmer in Washington state. They have been estranged for most of their adult lives and view most things differently, including politics. When Carl asks for his sister’s help, they wind up spending more time together than they ever would have imagined.
Uhry has a sister and sees how that can be an awkward relationship growing up. When parents die, siblings can drift even further apart. “There is no football together, no shopping, nothing like that to bond,” he says. “The difference is that our relationship is fine. The one in the play is not.”
Although he doesn’t care to have his work labeled, Uhry says he is drawn to family relationships. “My stuff is all the same,” he laughed during a recent telephone interview from New York, as he and the cast and director were preparing to come to Atlanta.
The play involves a lot of talk between the siblings. “I grew up listening to family stories and I loved it,” Uhry says. “Marie and Carl learn how to be comfortable with loving each other.”
Booth sees the drama as one that is both smart and full of emotion. “This piece is profoundly moving, in a way that can only happen when great intellect meets pure heart,” she says. “It’s a deceptive work that draws you in with incredible craft and then purely clobbers you with the big questions of ‘who do you love and why?’ Our audiences love a show that strikes them deeply and squarely in the heart, and Alfred has done that in this play with astonishing craft and great emotional vulnerability.”
The playwright is particularly high on his two stars. “Patricia was on that series for a while and that’s what people know her from, but before that she was a stage actress,” he says.
Actor David Rasche was attached to the project for a while but recently had to drop out because of family matters. Carlin stepped in to replace him late in the game. Uhry says it has been a seamless transition.
Uhry has a few more projects lined up, including the much-buzzed musical adaptation of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which he calls ripe material to dig into and adapt. “It’s a wonderful world to be drawn into — Savannah is unique and perverse and delightful,” he says.
And “Driving Miss Daisy” continues to grace the stage. Through some odd fluke, it never officially landed on Broadway until 2010, with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. It will be staged in Australia with Jones and a different Daisy, Angela Lansbury.
Atlanta is not what it was when Uhry was young and left the city for Brown University and then New York. “When I was a kid, no one here could really live in Atlanta and be a playwright,” he says. “Now that has changed. It’s a 180-degree turn. Now, there are dozens of working playwrights living in Atlanta.
“The Hertz has been lucky for me; I had two hits there. I was delighted when Susan wanted to do this. It’s nice to be back. It’s a great space, great staff. I love what the Alliance has done and how they’ve grown.”