note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
You might think Horton Foote wrote Alfred Urey's "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" because, in true Foote fashion, Urey presents us with the small events in the lives of a Southern family. Although the events seem small to us, they're of great importance to each family member. The cotillion --- on the last night of a festival called Ballyhoo --- looms large for a teenage daughter in a Jewish family in 1939. Her mother hopes (or rather insists) that she marry well, and this ball is her very last chance, they say, to snag any prospects. WWII is about to explode, but at this moment in time the cotillion eclipses everything else.
This girl lives with her mother and aunt, both widowed, and an unmarried uncle. Her cousin is away at college, so the last night of Ballyhoo isn't as vitally important to her...although she does end up going, and with a handsome transplant from Brooklyn.
Where the Southern Jews try hard to assimilate into genteel gentile society, the Brooklyn Jew lives his religion with all the price a Ne'Yawker can radiate. Where Foote's plays are bittersweet paeans to everyday life Urey's "Ballyhoo" is a comedy...and a broad one at that --- so it's a pleasure to report that JTNE's version has a heart just above its funnybone, largely due to Daniel Gidron's sensitive direction ... and to a crackerjack performance by Bobbie Steinbach as a bright-eyed mother of the college girl. Steinbach plays her with a twinkle in her eye and honey on her lips, making even the simplest words into music. Fine performances, too, come from Ro'ee Levi as a brash young New Yorker, and from Dan Bolton as a charming red-headed kidder aptly named "Peachy". Nicole Kempske makes a collegiate cousin independent and spunky --- soon to be a "liberated woman" in the '60s.
Ilyse Robbins portrays the desperate daughter as very much an extension of her hysterical mother --- played with flamboyant small-mindedness by Deena Mazer. Ken Baltin rounds out the cast as the long suffering uncle/father-substitute. Baltin plays him as if the weight of the world were on his shoulders. He is, after all, carrying the weight of the family...and now Peachy will be kidding HIM all day. "Ballyhoo"'s set is the Broadway set --- as are the gorgeous costumes. It's old world elegance resembles one of the rooms at the Gardner Museum, and when lit in Eric Levenson's warm, Southern light, it says, charmingly, "museum piece" and even "passť" --- like the values cherished by the Levys.