Defining Them And Us
From the 1930s through the 1950s, Jewish communities in various Southern cities hosted events in which college-age men and women got together to meet, chat, dance, mingle and, well, –hopefully – find a Jewish mate. In Atlanta, the Jewish-only Standard Club sponsored a weekend of breakfast dates, tea dances, cocktail parties, formals, and more, called "Ballyhoo."
As the play opens, Ballyhoo is less than two weeks away. The Freitags, an extended Jewish family living under one roof, seem almost completely assimilated. They don't know a word of Yiddish or Hebrew, they don't know from Seders, they even have a Christmas tree – but not with a star on top, because the star represents the Messiah.
The Freitags are proud to be the only Jewish family living on toney Habersham Road, but they also remain closely involved with the Jewish community. It's only when Joe Farkas arrives from Brooklyn that we, and they, see how much of their heritage, and possibly their identity, they've lost.
It's clear, playwright Alfred Uhry is promoting a dialogue about culture and roots and what we should hold onto even as we move forward. But at its core, "Ballyhoo" is about the deep-seated human need to define a "them" separate from and inferior to "us," whether it's the black slaves in "Gone with the Wind," the Polish Jews who were forced to wear identifying patches on their clothing, or the Atlanta Jews of Eastern European descent who are barred from the Standard Club.
Director Chesley Plemmons could have done more to tease these themes out of the script. All of the characters in "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" are Jewish, and they argue about what, exactly, it means to be Jewish. But the larger meaning of the play is universal, and can be felt and understood by anyone.
"The Last Night of Ballyhoo" runs at TheatreWorks in New Milford, CT, through May 24. Tickets and information call 860-350-6863 or go to www.theatreworks.us.