Wednesday, December 7, 2011

THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO • New Jewish Theatre

The plays I've seen from The New Jewish Theatre often seem to be these intimate little "slice of life" affairs that offer lessons that sneak up on you.  This 1997 Tony Award winning play by Alfred Uhry (author of DRIVING MISS DAISY), with solid direction by Gary Wayne Barker, is no exception.
It's the Holiday Season in a 1939 well-to-do German Jewish community in Atlanta, Georgia.  "Gone With the Wind" is about to make its film debut, and a flighty, young Lala Levy (Rachel Fenton) cannot wait to soak up the atmosphere of this highly anticipated premiere.  Lala's social climbing mother, Beulah "Boo" Levy (Peggy Billo), is more concerned with securing a suitable gentleman to take Lala to "Ballyhoo" -- an annual celebration for southern Jews that culminates on the last night with a dance.  Lala, a college dropout who's not the most popular girl, is one of the only ones in her circle of friends who is still unmarried.  Lala and Boo live on one of the finest streets in Atlanta with Boo's single brother, Adolph (Greg Johnston), head of the Dixie Bedding Company, and their seemingly simple and endearing sister-in-law, Reba Freitag (Laurie McConnell).  Although they boast a Jewish heritage that goes back 150 years, the Levys and the Freitags have hardly any idea what it means to be Jewish, aside from a couple of Yiddish words here and there.  They are so assimilated into the predominantly Christian South that the opening scene has Lala decorating their Christmas tree -- without the star on top (which makes it okay).

Greg Johnston (Adolph Freitag), Peggy Billo (Boo Levy),
Laurie McConnell (Reba Freitag), Adam Moskal (Joe Farkus)
and  Rachel Fenton (Lala Levy).
Photo credit: John Lamb
When Adolph brings his newest employee home for dinner, a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn named Joe Farkus (Adam Moskul), the first hints of friction begin to surface.  Joe is a devout Jew -- baffled a bit by the presence of a Christmas tree in his employer's home, but he's also a Jew of Eastern European descent -- looked down upon by Jews of German descent.  Joe meets Reba's daughter Sunny on the train, after Adolph asks him to check up on her as she's on her way home from Wellesley College.  They hit it off.  But again -- those differences.  While Sunny seems willing to be more open to her Jewish identity, other members of the family seem blissfully oblivious to their heritage -- even going so far as hurling anti-semitic slurs.  Meanwhile, Boo is trying to angle a match between her daughter and Peachy Weil (Dylan Duke), a Jewish boy from a good family in Louisiana.  As the night of the dance approaches, tensions emerge, and the heavier subjects of self-hatred and inter-cultural prejudices are further explored, and it all hits the fan at…  yes… the last night of Ballyhoo.
Rachel Fenton  (Lala Levy)
and Peggy Billo (Boo Levy).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This show has a fantastic cast.  Peggy Billo as the ambitious Boo Levy was impressive.  A real piece of work that one.  With her own grudges to nurse, Billo is not only bitter and biting at times, but also sympathetic and very funny, with some of the best lines in the play.  Laurie McConnell's Reba Freitag was brought to life with a wonderful charm -- down to that spot-on Southern drawl.  Greg Johnston was marvelous as Adolph, delivering some of the most sentimental moments in the show.  Also nice work from Adam Moskul and Dylan Duke as Joe and Peachy, and Rachel Fenton was perfectly distracted as Lala.  Although her dialect didn't quite ring as true, Alexandra Woodruff's Sunny Freitag was also a delight.  The beautifully natural set by Justin Barisonek, enhanced by Michael Sullivan's lighting and Michele Friedman Siler's costumes, draw you further into the story.

Check this one out for a great cast and crew, seamless direction, and some food for thought when you leave the theatre.  You won't be sorry.


THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO
Written by Alfred Uhry
Directed by Gary Wayne Barker
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through December 18 | tickets: $35.30 - $39.50
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 7:30pm
Laurie McConnell (Reba Freitag), Greg Johnston (Adolph Freitag)
and Alexandra Woodruff (Sunny Freitag).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Cast:
*Peggy Billo (Boo Levy), *Laurie McConnell (Reba Freitag), Greg Johnston (Adolph Freitag), Rachel Fenton (Lala Levy), Alexandra Woodruff (Sunny Freitag), Dylan Duke (Peachy Weil) and Adam Moskul (Joe Farkus).
* Member Actors' Equity Association
Creative:
Scenic design by Justin Barisonek; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; sound design by Donald Smith; props, Peggy Knock; stage manager, Lorraine LiCavoli.

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