THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO
by Alfred Uhry
Charleston, South Carolina
Ballyhoo Serves Up Food For Thought
BY DOTTIE ASHLEY
Post & Courier Reviewer 04/09/99
Director Steve Lepre has deftly directed Alfred Uhry’s spectacular 1997 Tony Award-winning play, The Last Night of Ballyhoo making it a lasting entity to take home with you to ponder.
This examination of the dark side of human nature still has plenty of laughs, which pleased the large crowd at Midtown Theatre, where Sheri Grace Productions staged the play, one of the best I’ve seen in recent years. From the opening moments when young Lala Levy is placing a star on the Christmas tree in an Atlanta mansion, you sense the ambiguity felt by Jews in the South in 1939, when the desperation to be assimilated clashed with the pride of acknowledging heritage.
A native Atlantan, Uhry, whose Driving Miss Daisy was such a hit, is not afraid to take on his own relatives, depicting them at times in an unflattering light. In this comedy-drama, Uhry dares to write about the restricted Jewish clubs in Atlanta, which only allowed membership to those who were descended from German Jews.
The event, Ballyhoo, is a Christmas season dance started by German Jews as a counterpart to the WASPish Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta. Young Jewish people from across the South come to Atlanta and stay with friends and relatives. Despite its title, this marvelous play is universal in appeal and a searing dissection of what motivates human behavior. Uhry’s characters are expertly and authentically drawn, truly representative of the Southern way of making an event of 30 years ago seem to have happened yesterday.
Paulette Bertolami, brilliant and brittle as Boo Levy, is a strong-willed woman who knows where all the bodies are buried and has been hard-hit by the early death of her husband and by the terrible social failure of her daughter, Lala. In the role of Lala, who does nothing right, Laura Rikard is extremely effective, making us pull for her as she lives her fantasy life. Libby Campbell as Reba, is empathetic as a widow so proud of her pretty daughter, Sunny, who is sensitively played by Samantha Andrews, a college student forced to look beyond the surface. And Jeff Jordan says what we don’t want to hear as Joe Farkas, the Yankee, who takes note that Hitler is invading Poland. Simultaneously obnoxious and endearing, Blake Campbell is just peachy as the well-born Peachy Weil. Dick Latham exudes class as the avuncular Uncle Adolph, a self-made man who lives among four women, and long ago fell in love with a beauty on the Chattahoochee Streetcar, but was too shy to speak. A good man, but, nevertheless, a business man, he is past-president of the restricted Standard Club, symbolizing the fine line we continue to walk between conscience and conformity, as clubs continue to exclude from membership those of certain racial heritages.
Uhry may have set his play in 1939, but we are there now.
Morality At The Midtown
BY ROBERT JONES
Post & Courier Reviewer 04/18/99
The Last Night of Ballyhoo’ proved that the Midtown Theatre, so pleasant a place for comedy, can have serious drama just as effectively. Thanks to the skill and inventiveness of director Steve Lepre, Alfred Uhry’s comedy/drama filled the rambling interior of the Midtown with good acting and strong emotions. The play is about class prejudice among Atlanta’s Jewish community on the eve of World War II, and it reminded me of a recent quote (by the late Sen. George Aiken) in this newspaper: ``If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other causes for prejudice by noon.’’
Ballyhoo is a morality play, but it doesn’t preach, and it ends happily, at least for the Jews in Atlanta. For those in Europe ... well, the thought of the gathering holocaust doesn’t bother Uhry’s characters too much, since they’re too involved with their own petty prejudices. But it hovers ominously over the action anyway. A memorable play, beautifully performed.
The Last Night of Ballyhoo
BY SANDY KATZ
Charleston’s Free Time Reviewer 04/20/99
The Last Night of Ballyhoo, a Sheri Grace Production at Midtown Theatre is a definite feather in Ms Grace’s “theatrical” cap. Ms. Grace has graced tile stage of the intimate Midtown Theatre with entertainment from her producing and acting Talent treasure box. This time she out-did herself. Bravo, Sheri, this show is as good as it gets!
Native Atlantan Alfred Uhry, author of run-away hit Driving Miss Daisy, wrote this play for Atlanta Olympics Arts Commission. And it won a Tony in 1997. Uhry gleans his characters right from his own family members.
Multi-talented director Steve Lepre brings together an ensemble cast worthy of any Broadway professional status. Lepre meticulously orchestrates the actor’s every movement and glance to capture the right tone of this sensitive play with comedic qualities.
The play’s content has universal appeal -- even though the theme’s focus is on the German Jews of the South who exclude other Jews from attending their exclusive club where the Ballyhoo dance reigns supreme each winter holiday season. Can’t we all name ethnic groups and blue blood societies doing the same thing today?
This thought-provoking play is mounted exquisitely to reflect the affluent taste of this 1939 Atlantan family. The sensual striking set design by Tripp Storm is properly fashionable. The living room furniture is classically eclectically elegant.
Costume designer, Julie Ziff created a marvelous wardrobe for the actors. Every outfit coordinates with the image of the performer, enhancing the credibility of their character interpretation. She dresses them well.
Curvaceous and perky Samantha Andrews plays intellectual sun-shiny Southerner Sunny Freitag who has the right chemistry with love interest suave and sexy Jeff Jordan as Yankee Joe Farkas. They come from two different worlds. Joe was brought up to celebrate and honor his Judaic heritage while Sunny would rather assimilate. Joe helps Sunny and her family confronts their ethnic demons.
Gone With The Wind enthusiast Lala Levy is played by appropriately moody and dramatic Laura Rikard. Lala was at the mercy of her constantly yelling, frustrated social-climbing mom, Boo Levy played by Paulette Bertolami. It wasn’t an easy task keeping a screeching high Frequency’ decibel throughout the play, but Bertolami met the challenge. In contrast, Sunny’s soft-spoken mom Reba Freitag played by Libby Campbell kept her cool with refined elegance. Technically speaking, splendid soundman Ryan Ahlert, made them all sound good.
Comfortable as an old-shoe Dick Latham is Patriarch Adolph Freitag who lives in the same house with four women. He likes to display most attention on Sunny, be a friend to widowed sister-in-law Reba, show indifference to Lala and constantly complain about his sister, Boo’s actions. He comes across as a genuine Mr. Nice guy. Red-headed Blake Campbell plays teasing Peachy Weil. Lala’s love interest with gusto.
The program notes allude to the fact that Ballyhoo marks Steve’s third collaboration with Sheri Grace Productions, and he and Sheri like to think they make “theatrical magic” together. This reviewer agrees and wants to see many more magical evenings.
The Last Weekend of Ballyhoo
BY S.E. BARCUS
Charleston City Paper 04/21/99
Alfred Uhry’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo plays for only one more weekend at the Midtown Theatre and because it has, an all-around good story and great cast, I would highly recommend you choose this live performance over some pulp from Hollywood. It’s also nice to see a play that’s actually set in our region for once, and nice to have a playwright like Mr. Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy), who brings a Southern sensibility to the New York-centric theater. Although set in Atlanta, members of the audience might even be titillated by the offering of Charleston references here and there.
The play opens around Christmas in Adolph Freitag’s Jewish home in Atlanta (interesting choice of a name for Mr. Freitag by Uhry). Gone with the Wind and World War II are both just about to premiere, and Ballyhoo, a local Jewish celebration, is coming up fast a dance held on the last night of Ballyhoo is as socially important and stressful to the young people as the senior prom. Several little subplots are weaved into this family comedy. The main one concerns the tension leading up to the dance. Two cousins living with Adolph -Lain and Sunny-- are looking to take the same fellow, Joe Farkas, to the dance. Joe is a transplant from New Yawk who stands out like the Statue of Liberty. It takes Joe to show the Southern Jews that their behaviors are a little too close to the racist and separatist ones they have been victims of. The ability to intertwine a moral lesson so subtly and realistically into what remains a very funny play is quite an achievement by the playwright. In one of the most surprising developments, Uhry lays a trap for Lala that, thankfully, doesn’t go as expected from all the tragic clues he plants.
Lala Levy was played perfectly by Laura Rikard, from the mopey layabout to the flamboyant, Gone With the Wind-obsessed “Scarlet O’Goldberg.” Libby Campbell, in her Charleston debut, has shown we have yet another fine actress in town.’ She played Sunny’s mother. Reba Freitag, hysterically with her dry, innocent -- sometimes disgusting -comments. Lala’s mother Boo was played by Pautette Bertolami with a curious and funny mixture of George Costanza’s mother and Mamie. Dick Latham was fine as Adolph Freitag, but I don’t know if he can ever be seen as anything but the Divine drag queen from Psycho Beach Party. Also from that Psycho production, Jeff Jordan returns to the Midtown as Joe Farkas, and was a great, breath of fresh air into the story. Yet another Psycho member -- and playing a character with a brain for the first time -- is Samantha Andrews who plays the studious Sunny Freitag with charm and honesty. And, in another debut, Blake Campbell, (with a voice that recalls Keanu Reeves), did a fine job as Peachy Well, the snotty, redheaded German Jew.
Altogether, they’re an outstanding ensemble, one of the best all-around casts I’ve seen in Charleston. Credit must also go to the outstanding director, Steve Lepre, for this feat. And the set! Tripp Storm laid out the most elaborate set I’ve seen at the cozy Midtown yet. Great job to everybody, and you’d be a damn fool not to support Charleston’s own actors over some cynical, plastic, coke-sniffing L.A. millionaires.