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The Last Night of Ballyhoo
Theater Review by Terri Roberts, Back Stage West

Religion, like sex, is an extremely personal, subjective issue--what one person considers insufficient, for example, may be considered excessive by another. In Alfred Uhry's 1997 play, Joe Farkas (Gil Bernardi) hails from a Jewish neighborhood in New York where everyone proudly embraces their heritage and all it has to offer. When he comes to Atlanta in the winter of 1939 to work for Adolph Freitag (Blaise Messinger), he's amazed to discover the Jewish upper class in a frenzy over Ballyhoo, the season's social event, and almost offensively indifferent to Hitler's invasion of Poland.

In the Freitag household, Adolph's excitable and immature niece, Lala (Randi Lynne Weidman), tops a Christmas tree with a shiny Christian star, but there is nary a menorah in sight. In fact, both the house and personalities of the entire Freitag family have so expelled anything ethnically identifiable that Joe questions whether they really are Jewish. When issues of ethics and different means of religious expression reach a critical mass at Ballyhoo, it nearly destroys his romance with Adolph's other niece, the beautiful, studious, and far more sophisticated Sunny (Mia Wesley).

Director Scott Segall confidently navigates the play's critical cultural waters and keeps a rousing bounce in the comic "B" storyline involving Lala's consuming devotion to Gone With the Wind (the premiere of which is in Atlanta, and which she holds as her own personal Ballyhoo). And his cast is terrific throughout. Weidman is hilarious as the petty Lala, whose jealous relationship with Sunny has overtones of Scarlett and Melanie. Leslie Bartlett takes a lower-key approach to the other comic relief role of Reba, Sunny's somewhat sweetly dense mother, and it suits her well. Wesley and Bernardi send off enough sparks to start Atlanta burning all over again, and they are a joy to watch, independently and together. Judy Walstrum, who is so marvelous at playing ditzy roles, here handles the role of Lala's take-control mother, Boo, with quiet assurance and authority, never stepping over the top. Messenger does fine sturdy work as the family patriarch, Adolph, and Chad Borden makes a bright impression as obnoxious society snob Peachy Weil.

Some minor adjustments to Susan Gratch's set design for the Colony's recent production of The Man Who Came to Dinner allowed it to accommodate the needs of Ballyhoo rather nicely. But while the layout itself works, the set decoration makes the Freitag house seem more like an average middle-class home than that of a financially "well-padded" family who has settled in on the tonier side of town. Special mention must go to dialect coach Joel Goldes, who kept everyone smooth and still understandable, and Allison Achauer, whose costume design ranges from well-crafted, everyday simplicity to Lala's huge, hoop-skirted blue-chiffon and white-lace ball gown. Scarlett, I'm sure, would approve.
 

Copyright 2001, VNU eMedia, Inc. - Back Stage West
Reprinted with Permission 
The Last Night of Ballyhoo at the Colony Theatre