November 30, 2001


The Last Night of Ballyhoo

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning































For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

For more information about Charlotte Rep, please visit

(aired 12/6 & 12/7/01 on WFAE)

Charlotte Reperatory Theatre promotes the warmhearted aspect of its holiday offering, The Last Night of Ballyhoo. And indeed, it does exist. But there is a deeper, more troubling tale amidst the holiday hubbub and preparation for the social event of the season. And therein lies the intrigue of this complex look into prejudice, self awareness and the social significance of religion in the South.

Jim Gloster's set design plays a defining role in the production. The well appointed living room is replete with a grand staircase festooned with red bows and cedar garlands. A Christmas tree surrounded by brightly wrapped packages sparkles with ornaments. The scene radiates the family warmth and Christmas cheer of a typical Christian household. But, its occupants are Jewish.

I was troubled by the décor, and wondered if the set designer meant to top the tree with a Star of David, which would make a modicum of sense. But it quickly becomes apparent that the Frietag and Levy household have gone to inordinate means to Anglicize themselves.

It is 1939, and Adolph Freitag, an unmarried Jewish businessman, lives in Atlanta in with four female relatives, who irritate and amuse him to various degrees. On the surface, the play is about how to get his niece Lala a date to the Ballyhoo dance. Lala, played with brutal honesty by Kacey Camp, is painfully delusional about the social opportunities available to her. She is mercilessly harangued by her mother Boo Levy, skillfully acted by Mary Lucy Bivins, with the subtlety of a leaf blower.

Although Hitler is invading Czechoslovakia, and Jews are being disenfranchised throughout Europe, the Freitag and Levy families are preoccupied with the premiere of Gone With the Wind, and decorating the house for the holidays. And life would probably have continued this way if Freitag hadn't hired Joe. Joe is a New York Jew who is flummoxed by the show of Christian customs in a Jewish home. His comfort and pride in his Judaism, challenges the Freitag's sense of themselves. Throughout the play it becomes apparent that their capitulation to Gentile discrimination has stripped them any sense of who they are. In their journey to assimilate into Atlanta society, their lives have been compromised. But I think it is the exploration of stratification within the Jewish faith that makes this a fascinating drama.

Despite the very serious undertone, Ballyhoo is full of laughs and moments of family truth. The relationships between the siblings and in-laws are so naturally fraught with years of love and resentment, that I wasn't surprised to learn that the majority of this cast performed the same roles in this production a few years ago. Their experience shines in an unusual depth of character realization. Michael Edwards is hilarious. Rebecca Koon's quiet humor and Josh Gaffga's feral laughter elicit belly laughs. And Tim Ross and Elizabeth Diane Wells generated enough chemistry to spark a Yuletide log.

The Last Night of Ballyhoo is written by venerable playwright Alfred Uhry, famous for winning the Tony Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Oscar, and whose works are as varied as Driving Miss Daisy and Mystic Pizza. Director Steve Umberger succeeded in assembling a cast that work like parts of the same body.

This is a play written for the New South, where reinventing ourselves is a constant theme, and pluralism is a constant challenge.

Lynn Trenning, November 30, 2001

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