By Dawn Watson
Appearances are everything to Beulah “Boo” Levy. Especially the most important ones—social pecking order and her unattached daughter’s state of romantic affairs.
Keeping up those appearances might be exhausting, but there’s simply no other way to put one’s best foot forward, in Boo’s book. After all, she and her family didn’t arrive at “the best address in Atlanta,” especially as the “only Jews on Habersham Road,” without putting in the proper effort.
But all Boo’s priorities and hard work are about to come crashing to the fore as “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” the ball to end all balls for the Jewish A-list of Atlanta, approaches. Consumed by class distinction and the need for acceptance, when it comes to saving face, she’s driven to desperate measures.
LaLa, her flighty and unpopular daughter is dateless. What will the neighbors think? And her niece Sunny, the family favorite golden child, is back from college for the Christmas break (not Hanukkah, mind you—this is the South in 1939 and it’s best to be as assimilated as possible) with a wholly unacceptable date for the dance. Sunny’s new beau, Joe Farkas, is “the other kind” of Jew—an Eastern European descendant straight from Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn—and he certainly won’t do. Not at all.
Staging at Bay Street through Saturday, July 24, the Tony Award-winning play by Alfred Uhry is a comedic sketch about anti-Semitism and the importance of acceptance—of self and of others—that should resonate regardless of religion, race, creed or color. Told with a light and humorous touch by the man who wrote “Driving Miss Daisy,” it makes for an entertaining evening of theater as well. And this appealing production, directed by Will Pomerantz, brings with it lots of laugh-out-loud moments mixed with just the right sprinkling of message to keep it breezy yet impactful.
Well cast and quite enjoyable, the show centers on the dilemma’s faced by the family matriarch, played by Ellen Harvey—a Broadway leading lady most familiar as Martha Nelson on “House of Cards”—who channels a humorous combination of Rosalind Russell’s “Auntie Mame” and Carol Burnett’s famous sendup of “Gone with the Wind,” in her portrayal of reproachful Boo. Not to be outshone by her stage-version mother, Erin Neufer brings compassion and depth to fantasy-filled Lala, who is obsessed with all things “Gone with the Wind” and saving face in light of her social awkwardness.
As outsider, Farkas, Ari Brand evokes shades of Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird” as he strikes a fine balance between romantic leading man and voice of resolute reason in his firmly held beliefs. His leading lady, Sunny, played by Amanda Kristin Nichols, might be the last main character to set foot on the stage but in keeping with her remarkable entrance (bravo to set designer Alexander Dodge), she’s the most unforgettable and entrancing of the entire ensemble.
The strong cast is rounded out by John Hickok, who plays titular family head Adolph Freitag with easy avuncular charm; Dori Legg, whose refreshing portrayal of endearing lightweight second-in-command matriarch Reba brings lots of smiles; and Daniel Abeles, who adds heart and humor to the insouciant yet highly prized Peach Weil. Each brings something imminently enjoyable the Bay Street stage in this pleasing production.
Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor is staging “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” through Sunday, July 24. Student Sunday Matinees will be offered for high school and college students during the run of the show and Talkback Tuesdays will also occur with the cast and special guests. For additional information and reservations, visit www.baystreet.org.