‘The Last Night of Ballyhoo’ at Bay Street Theater
On the stage of the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor the visitors can see the living room with the Christmas tree in the corner. Even though the tree is not large it is of great importance.
“The Last Night of Ballyhoo” by Alfred Uhry won the Tony Award for best play in 1997. The play is about Jews, their attitude to religion and relationships with each other. The action of this serious comedy takes place in Atlanta, in a house of a middle-aged bachelor, who lives with his sister and his sister-in-law, both widows, and their daughters.
At the beginning of the play Lala Levy, one of the two daughters, decorates the Christmas tree singing “The First Noel”. Her signing is praised by her cheerful aunt, Reba Freitag, but is immediately criticized by her strict mother, Boo Levy. She thinks that a star at the top symbolizes “the birth of Jesus” and it should not decorate “Jewish Christmas trees.”
The Levy-Freitag family owns a successful bedding company. Some members of this family despised a young Jewish man who came to their home with anti-Semitic slurs because his roots were from Eastern Europe and not from Germany like theirs. The events of the play take place in 1939, when World War II has already begun, but the foreign politics are not discussed.
What bothers the family is finding a date for Lala to the ball finishing a celebration called Ballyhoo, the important event for German-Jewish society in the South.
Mr. Uhry, who is also from Atlanta, demonstrates excellent knowledge of the milieu when creating an insightful look into that era. In his play he managed to make an engaging family portrait full of funny moments. The play is directed by Will Pomerantz and boasts a sterling cast.
Ellen Harvey plays Boo, the stern mother who looks with frowning disapproval at nearly everyone. Ms. Harvey splendidly portrays this bright character, revealing what’s behind her bad mood – the feeling of being shut out of the family business and anxiety about her daughter, Lala, who fails to succeed in life. This character reminds Laura in “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams.
Lala played by Erin Neufer is passionate about “Gone With the Wind.” The world premiere of the movie version is to take place in Atlanta, and Lala wants to attend. She even appears in a Scarlett-like dress and tells about writing her own novel. The plot of the play centers in the rivalry between Lala, a college dropout, and her cousin Sunny Freitag who is prettier and smarter. Sunny studies at Wellesley and Lala is jealous of her and of the attention she receives from their uncle, Adolph Freitag played by John Hickok.
Sunny, the daughter of Reba, also attracts the attention of Joe Farkas who works for the bedding company. Sunny considers herself less prejudiced than other family members. She feels attracted to Joe too, so Lala has only one choice if she attends the Ballyhoo dance — Peachy Weil, who is rather odd.
The production features some stylized dancing with four characters moving down theater aisles with rather contemporary gestures. Also the characters always emphasize the word “other” whenever they refer to non-German Jews. However, this amazing piece of stagecraft is rather positive. Alexander Dodge, the set designer, together with Mike Billings who is in charge of lighting and Jane Shaw responsible for sound, turns a living room wall into a train with a private compartment. Sunny and Joe meet there and the attitudes of the characters begin to change.