Don't wait for the last night of "The Last Night of Ballyhoo"
It is the eve of World War II. The excesses of Adolph Hitler are not yet real for Americans still isolationist and anti-war. Jewish communities have a better idea of Hitler’s significant impact, yet the Jews of the American South are isolated further and concerned primarily with their own struggle regarding restrictions in society. In “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” a family of Jews in Atlanta is less worried about Hitler’s threat to Poland and Polish Jews than they are concerned with the Ballyhoo cotillion, rivaling any Southern extravaganza. And everyone is Atlanta seems consumed with the premiere of “Gone With the Wind” opening with Hollywood fanfare in December, 1939.
In the home of Adolph Freitag, his sister Boo Levy is concerned with being sure her daughter secures an appropriate date for Ballyhoo. Daughter Lala seems most connected to her newest façade based on Scarlett O’Hara. Also living in the home in the upscale section of Atlanta, is Reba Freitag, the widow of Adolph and Boo’s elder brother Simon, founder of the Dixieland Bedding Company Adolph now runs, Expected home soon is her daughter, Sunny, who is returning from Wellesley for the Christmas Holiday. They are Jewish, but quite disconnected from the horrors Hitler is wreaking on Europe. The family is mainly occupied with maintaining position in the predominately Protestant upper crust Southern society.
Adolph has a glimmer of what is happening and favorite niece Sunny is capable of such a glimmer but is primarily concentrating on her education. Adolph has hired a young assistant, Joe Farkas from Brooklyn, New York. Joe is flabbergasted as he discovers this family is so completely unconnected to their Jewish heritage and unaware of their own prejudice.
Alfred Uhry, author of “Driving Miss Daisy” has created an excellent commentary on the Southern complacency of this Jewish family. The audience is aware that the perspective must change and the Jewish soul will be awakened in horror, but first the connection must be established. The character of Joe Farkas is the catalyst. Using humor and sensitivity, Uhry’s wake-up call to the community must be directed with complete historical accuracy regarding the attitudes of the time. Director, Matthew Gray utilizes the expertise of Dramaturge Anna Holloway as well as a superb cast to realize the author’s intent.
Donald Jordan is cast in the role of Adolph Freitag. His sensitive portrayal of a bachelor saddled with a widowed sister-in-law and a widowed sister along with their daughters is outstandingly real. Jordan provides Adolph’s character with perfect understanding of Jewish traditions without the origins. His southern gentleman is the façade for the genuine Jewish gentleman.
His sister Boo is hysterically and beautifully played by Jeanie Cooper. Her absorption with the family place in society is typically southern belle, and her impulse to rise above her Jewish heritage is quite comical. Daughter Lala is secretly shy, awkward and a dreamer. Every late-blooming wall-flower will identify whole-heartedly with the performance of Augusta Abene in this painful and familiar role.
The role of Reba Freitag, the widow of Adolph’s elder brother Simon, is expertly portrayed by Wendy Welch. Welch portrays a wise and loving typical Jewish mother under a flutteringly flattering southern exterior. It is no wonder that she is beloved of daughter Sunny, played by Meghan Wagner. Wagner shows a young woman exploring her world through education with grace and ease and yet reveals her character’s confusion as she realizes that she has discounted her own important heritage.
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