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'Ballyhoo' Has Energetic Performances, Solid Direction
Theater Review by Matt Verboys, The Foothill Leader

While prejudice between different ethnic groups is often explored in the arts, it's rare to find a look at racism within the same community.

Famed playwright Alfred "Driving Miss Daisy" Uhry's humorous, yet dramatic, "Last Night of Ballyhoo" presents an enlightening look at prejudice inside the American Southern Jewish culture.

This energetically performed, solidly directed Colony Theatre production manages to nail both the comedy and dramatic undercurrents in Uhry's work, offering hearty laughs and sobering moments in equal measure.

More character-based than plot oriented, the play is set in 1939 Atlanta during the holiday season.

Hitler's invading Poland, but Atlanta's Jewish elite is more caught up in the premiere of "Gone With the Wind" and the upcoming Ballyhoo dance, the upper-crust social event of the season.

As if running the family business wasn't taxing enough, Adolph Freitag has to contend with his eccentric, Ballyhoo-crazed household. His widowed sister, Boo, is consumed with social appearance and is determined to find her flighty, "Gone With the Wind"-obsessed daughter, Lala, a respectable date for the dance.

Complications ensue when Joe, a young New York City Jewish Yankee, who has just started working for Adolph, falls head over heels for Adolph's beautiful, bright niece, Sunny, who is home on vacation from college.

When Joe asks Sunny to Ballyhoo, he triggers a whirlwind of jealousy and deep-rooted prejudice between Southern and Eastern American Jewish cultures.

While dealing specifically with Jewish culture, Uhry's play is a powerful, universal metaphor for racism that will hit home with every audience member.

The cast skillfully taps into the characters' souls, delivering Uhry's crackling dialogue with heart and comic precision. Leslie Bartlett is a hoot as Reba, Sunny's dim-witted but big-hearted mother, while Judy Walstrum shines as the shrill, class-obsessed Boo. Blaise Messinger projects a calming, sarcastic demeanor as Adolph, the level-headed force in the house. Chad Borden is hilarious as Peachy, the upper-crust, closed-minded snot who takes Lala to Ballyhoo.

But the stars of the show are undeniably Randi Lynne Weidman, simply a stitch as the emotional, scatterbrained Lala, Mia Wesley, who is radiant and soulful as Sunny, and Gil Bernardi, superb as Joe. Bernardi and Wesley have wonderful chemistry, bringing their delightful romance front and center.

Director Scott Segall keeps the energy up and the lulls short, weaving a seamless tapestry of comedy, drama and poignancy.

Fleshing out the production are some luscious music cues by Shaun Drew, featuring snippets from "Gone With the Wind," and effective lighting design by David Flad -- the final scene is lit in breathtaking cinematic fashion.
 

Copyright 2001, Times Community News
Reprinted with Permission 
The Last Night of Ballyhoo at the Colony Theatre