The Last Night of Ballyhoo
Chesley Plemmons is a talented and gracious man, well known in the world of local theater, directing more than 13 plays at Brookfield and the Sherman Players. It was this reporter's Sisyphean task to review him!
Mr. Plemmons was the theater critic for The Danbury News Times for 19 years and has reviewed over 2,000 plays from Broadway to London to Canada. He is a member of Broadway Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and the Connecticut Critics Circle. He recently retired from the News Times but fortunately not from the theatre. The Last Night of Ballyhoo is his second directorial assignment for TheatreWorks, having directed Edward Albee's Seascape last spring. In choosing this play he looked for "continuing value, opportunities for a good cast and freshness for the audience." Even though Ballyhoo won the 1997 Tony Award for best play, it's rarely been performed in the greater Danbury area.
In 1939, the setting for this play by Alfred Uhry (most noted for his Pulitzer Prize winning first play, Driving Miss Daisy), the world is about to explode into war fueled by prejudice and hatred. However, the focus of this play is not the prelude to WWII, but the prejudice of a Jewish family for "the other kind" in their ethnicity. Even the names of the characters are a clue to the comedic undertone of the story.
Adolph Freitag lives in Atlanta and has a comfortable life. He never married but shares his home with his widowed sister Boo Levy and her daughter Lala. His late brother's wife Reba Freitag is also in residence with her daughter Sunny who is attending Wellesley.
They are far removed from a traditional Jewish family, know nothing of Yiddish of Hebrew and celebrate the holidays with a Christmas tree in the window, just to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood. They are German Jews unaccepting of "the other kind" from Eastern Europe.
Its right before Christmas, and excitement is building for the annual Ballyhoo, several days of festivities culminating in a ball at the country club where the Freitag's are members. Although they are banned from the Christian country clubs, the irony escapes them as they practice the same restrictions by limiting membership to German Jews.
Adolph brings home a new employee from his business, Joe Farkas, a practicing Jew from Brooklyn who expresses interest in Sunny even though he is puzzled by the family's ignorance of their own religion and culture.
Under the skilled direction of Mr. Plemmons, the cast flows seamlessly delivering a story that is poignant and funny in turn.
Susan Abrams as Boo Levy is the essence of the stereotypical Jewish mother concerned for her daughter's future. She tries to mold Lala like a piece of clay, hen peeks her brother, and quickly dismisses her sister-in-law's spacey commentaries. In the audience we can feel her jealousy and disappointment in the circumstances of her life.
Stephen A. Ross as Adolph Freitag delivers a subtle performance of a man surrounded by women but not overpowered by them. He is the diffuser in tense family situations and his performance has an easiness that belies the chaos around him.
Charles Roth deftly portrays Joe Farkas with an underlying' gentleness and decency. He is believable right down to his accent. Erin Shaughnessy, gives Lala Levy her due as a perfect princess, pouting, foot stomping and all.
Carey Van Hollen gives us Sunny Freitag's charm and naiveté with a delightful natural ability. Joan S. Wyner as Reba Freitag is a satisfying "bubbie" delivering her lines with honed comedic timing.
Peachy Weill could be an irritating character but Samuel Everett invests just enough boyish charm to avoid being buffoonish. He clearly sends the message that he is a kid who believes everything his parents tell him.
The set design draws us into the living room of a house' styled in the 1930's, and with a few bits of clever re-arranging we meet Sunny on the train and even get a glimpse of Ballyhoo.
We've all experienced prejudice or harbored a prejudice thought. Prejudice in any form is hardly tolerated today, but every once in a while the media makes us question just how far we've come. The Last Night of Ballyhoo is a beautiful stage piece that lets us look at this human imperfection in the microcosm of one family.
In speaking with Mr. Plemmons after the show he made it clear that although retired as critic for the Danbury New Times, he still plans to direct more 'plays which is good news for all of us. Mr. Plemmons and Ellen Burnett (editor of the Citizen News) have developed a longtime friendship around their days together in local theatre. Mr. Plemmons, in underscoring he still plans to direct confirmed it with the comment: "Don't let Ellen Burnett bury me just yet!"
Don't miss this unique theatre experience. For more information and tickets go to www.theatreworks.us or call 860.350.6863.