Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
The Last Night of Ballyhoo
It's 1939 and all of Atlanta is concentrated on the premiere of Gone with the Wind. But not the Freitag family. They are busily preparing for the lavish Jewish ball, Ballyhoo. This well-to-do Jewish family has a black sheep in the family, an ugly duckling named Lala (Elizabeth King). Lala is so obsessed with the motion picture that she buys a hoop dress for Ballyhoo, inspiring her uncle Adolph (Rusty Allison) to call her "Scarlet O'Goldberg." Her mother, Boo (Miki Edelman), is thrilled when her bookworm daughter shows interest in the ball and makes numerous phone calls to prospective dance partners, hoping that someone acceptable will take Lala's arm that night.
Meanwhile, Boo takes her general meanness out on the whole family. She has a bee in her bonnet, and everyone rubs her the wrong way. Her unkindness makes the maid leave them during the holidays. But Boo never sees the error of her ways, although she does admit to some innate sadness later on in the play. Reba (Merry Jo Pitasi), Boo's sister, is delightfully chatty as she knits sweaters for the whole family and shows her Southern hospitality, trying not to fall into her sister's bad humor.
The characters in this piece are very interesting, but the themes of bigotry are even more compelling. In this case, the anti-Semitism comes from other Jews. The Freitags, you see, are the 'right kind of Jews,' so when one of the wrong kind, Eastern European Jew Joe Farkas (Jeff Silver), pays a visit to his boss's family, drama ensues. He questions their faith as he stares at their "Chanukah bush," as he puts it, an obvious Christmas Tree, displayed in the window.
But somehow Joe reaches out to the one member in the family with enough openness to see through the hatred and welcome him into her heart. Their romance spurs Lala's quest for love even farther. It is Lala's cousin Sunny (Meryl Bezrutczyk) who Joe takes an eye to, her name being a perfect description of the bright-eyed college girl's demeanor. Yet her Southern hospitality cannot cover up her innate feelings of shame about her own Jewishness. Joe's Jewish pride makes her realize that "there is an emptiness in her - a whole where the Judaism should be."
Bezrutczyk shines like a star and brilliantly takes us through her range of emotion and discovery. Miki Edelman is perfect as Boo. Her quick temper and high society judgements make her delicious to watch as she lashes out at everyone in the cast, especially Joe, either outright or in hushed undertones. Elizabeth King is delightful to watch as Lala. Whether mouth agape or scrunched, her facial expressions are hilarious and the rest of her body follows suite, making a performance unto itself. She has the energy of a pre-teen and pouts and clomps about in her saddle shoes like a child. She seems to have met her match with Aaron Lee as Peachy Weil, her "prospective." The two have strange but funny interactions as he teases her over going to Ballyhoo. Rusty Allison warms into his character. What starts as over-the-top melts into familiar character quirks.
The set design by Sean McClelland is cozy, with mottled browns, lace curtains and period furniture. He makes the set a home in every detail, down to the old telephone on the desk, the dishes and pictures on the wall. Allen Wilson has done a good job coordinating costumes, finding pieces that would fit the mood of each character but still preserve the time period.
Kudos to the Broward Stage Door Theatre for doing something other than a musical. This controversial drama is refreshing and hits the spot. The Last Night of Ballyhoo is showing until November 28th at 8036 W. Sample Road in Coral Springs. For tickets, please call 954-344-7765.