The Last Night of Ballyhoo
Playwright Alfred Uhry found fame in the 1980s with Driving Miss Daisy, a Southern play about friendship, loyalty and prejudice.But have you seen Uhry’s other important (and equally Southern) play? It’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo, a Tony-winning script in 1997. We recall only one previous production hereabouts, at the Sacramento Theatre Company nearly a decade ago.
Ballyhoo is a drama about coming of age and finding one’s identity, set in the small, cozy, social world of Atlanta’s affluent Jewish families, circa 1939. Specifically, it’s the Freitag/Levy family, who live well, if not extravagantly, given the time.
The story begins as the Nazis are starting their rampage in Europe … but the local premiere of film Gone with the Wind is creating a bigger stir in Atlanta—and daughter Lala (a college dropout and a bit of an ugly duckling played by Shannon Kendall) is starstruck.
In addition, it’s December, and Lala is decorating the Christmas tree—a family tradition, even though the family is Jewish, of German background. This distinctly Christian symbol strikes visitor Joe (Tyler Thompson)—likewise Jewish, but from New York and of Polish-Russian background—as odd. But then, the Frietag/Levy family seems to know little about the faith.
Lala needs a date for Ballyhoo, a debutante ball for the South’s Jewish aristocracy. In fact, Lala’s mother Boo (Marsha Black) regards Ballyhoo as the last, best opportunity to help her daughter land a husband. Joe, handsome and unattached, soon becomes the focus of Lala’s intense attention. But Joe’s more interested in Sunny (Alyce Hartman), Lala’s better-educated cousin, and Sunny reciprocates his overtures.
Lala’s mother Boo doesn’t want Joe marrying either of them—she takes a dim view of “the other kind”—Jews from a Polish-Russian background. But Joe is quietly encouraged by paunchy family patriarch Adolph (Stephen Miller), a measured, tolerant man who takes a long view of domestic disputes.
It’s a lovely, thoughtful, semi-autobiographical script (Uhry attended Ballyhoo as a teen), well-served in Imprint Theatre’s cleanly executed little production (directed by Amanda Aldrich), with nicely built sets (Regan Archer) and clever costumes (Marilyn Wilkison).