note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone
The Players second show of their 104th season is the 1997 Best Play Tony Award winning "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" by Alfred Uhry. It takes place in 1939 in Atlanta during the premiere of Gone With The Wind. The elitist German Jews are more concerned with the top social event of the season, Ballyhoo, than with Hitler's invasion of Poland. Ballyhoo is a lavish cotillion sponsored by their restrictive country club. Especially concerned is the Freitag family: bachelor Adolph, his widowed sister, Beulah (Boo) Levy and their also widowed sister-in-law, Reba. Boo is determined to have her unpopular daughter, Lala attend Ballyhoo which will be her last chance to find a socially acceptable husband. Adolph's new assistant, Joe, visits them for dinner but is Brooklyn born and bred of Eastern European heritage which is several rungs below the Freitags, in Boo's opinion. Joe seems to be more interested in Lala's cousin, Reba's daughter, Sunny who is home for Christmas vacation. Will Boo succeed in snaring Peachy Weil, a member of the finest Jewish families in the South, will Sunny and Joe avoid the land mines of prejudice that stand in their way and will Lala ever get to Ballyhoo? The show is about accepting one's shared heritage and not denying it. The social distinctions don't matter, every individual should be taken for who they are, not for where they came from. Director Joan Dillenback casts strong performers in these roles and obtains stunning multilayered performances from all of them.
Joan blocks the show beautifully and blends the comic and dramatic scenes together splendidly. Dan Clement's gorgeous two story unit set fits the era perfectly as do the costumes by Judy Bowden.The first act introduces all the characters and situations and the second act flows better to bring things to a satisfying conclusion. Trisha McManus plays bitchy, widow, Boo Levy. She bosses her brother, sister-in-law, daughter and everyone around. Trisha shows how this sharp tongued woman felt slighted after being cut out of the family business. Boo pushes her daughter into a marriage because the boy's family and breeding are of the right kind of background. She displays Boo's denial of being a Jew by snubbing an Orthodox Jewish young man every time he visits their house. One of her funniest lines is drinking coffee late at night gives one gas. Her powerful acting prowess comes through as this unpleasant character. Trisha's interactions with the other characters are splendid to behold especially poignant is a tender scene with her brother after Boo berates Lala about going to Ballyhoo. David Epstein plays the wealthy, Adolph Freitag. He makes this over eating Southern gentleman very funny. David also displays the character's warmth to his family and Joe, his employee. One of his best moments comes when he finally stands up to his overbearing sister, Boo and tells her off. Boo's constant nagging finally gets his goat. David handles this scene wonderfully as well as the touching description of his meeting a lady on the trolley but never really speaking to her. Some of his comic lines include Scarlet O' Goldberg about Lala and the Jewish Tallulah Bankhead about Boo.
Susan Collyer plays the dippy sister-in-law Reba wonderfully. She has many comic lines in this show and she infuses the role with the needed qualities to make her a good, caring mother and family member. One of her funniest lines is higher education leads to insanity. David DeAlmo plays Joe Farkas, the Russian Jew from Brooklyn. His character oozes with such charm and friendliness, the audience roots for him to win the girl of his dreams. David also gives Joe a strong backbone to stand up to the bigotry around him. Joe finally shows his girlfriend, Sunny how to accept her true heritage and by doing so finally accepts him. David and Allie's confrontation scene after Ballyhoo stops the show with intensity. The beautiful brunette, Allie Meek makes Sunny, a breath of fresh air in this eccentric family. She has wonderful chemistry with David and the kiss is the culmination of their relationship. Allie shows the hurt that Sunny felt as a child being singled out as being Jewish. She displays it again when she realizes she unknowingly hurt Joe's feelings by not accepting him as a Russian Jew. Their argument scene is stunning. Allie handles this role wonderfully and delivers a heartfelt Seder prayer at the end of the show. The final member of the family, Lala is played by the beautiful blonde, Cassie Alley who is David's real life fiance. She is very funny as this deluded, whining, college age girl. She is constantly saying she is writing a novel or radio show, living in her own little world after flunking out of college. Lala's entrance in the "Tara" ballgown is hilarious. Cassie makes this unpleasant petty girl into a winning one at shows end. Her crying scene right before she decides to go to Ballyhoo or not, is gutwrenching as Boo browbeats her mercilessly. Lala finally snags her man which makes her mother, Boo, finally happy.
Last but not least is the scene stealing, red headed, Travis Greene as Peachy. He dyed his hair bright red for this role and enters in the second act like a whirling dervish who is full of off color jokes and stories. Travis brings up the comedic level several notches with his funny antics and line delivery. The story of his nine year old cousin as his date for Ballyhoo is cleverly set up with his perfectly delivered punch line that he is just pulling Lala's leg. Peachy's favorite expression is "What do you think?".His entrance into the family business knocks the wind out of Uncle Adolph's sails but you know Peachy will liven up this family. Travis livens up this show with his performance. So for a marvelously acted show with humor and some real life lessons set in the 1930's, be sure to catch "Last Night of Ballyhoo". Hard working stage manager Lydia Matteson keeps things running smoothly all night long. To become a member of this theatre club, call Lydia at 273-0590. Tell them Tony sent you.