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The Last Night of Ballyhoo

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The ultimate victory of an oppressive class is to get someone else to do the dirty work. If you can convince the downtrodden to turn on each other or, better still, turn on themselves ... well, there's a system with staying power.

Playwright Alfred Uhry examines this phenomenon in The Last Night of Ballyhoo, his 1997 comedy/drama about a Southern Jewish family just before the start of World War II.

It's 1939 and all of Atlanta is just about ready to burst with the premiere screening of Gone With the Wind. Certain quarters of the city have an additional reason for elation: It's time for the yearly dance known as Ballyhoo, a cotillion put together by and for elite members of the genteel Jewish families from all over the South.

The Freitags, the epitome of assimilationist Jews, are hoping they can marry off two of their youngest members: Sunny, a cool-headed, intellectual type and Lala, a scattered, movie-obsessed dreamer.

Into this scene comes Joe Farkas, a new employ in the Freitag family business, hailing from Brooklyn, who immediately sets off alarms: This is a world in which Jews who trace their ancestry back to Western Europe have very little regard for Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia. That such anti-Semitism can actually come from Jews throws Farkas for a loop, and pretty soon this decidedly unspoken subject moves to the front burner.

But of course, Uhry's main point is that while Western European Jews in America are snubbing Eastern European Jews, Hitler is herding all of them into boxcars.

My biggest complaint is that Uhry never actually states that point explicitly. That makes it possible to brush aside, with all the quaint anti-bellum idiosyncrasies and heart-warming stirrings of young love.

The Little Lake Theatre production features some fine performances, as directed by Jena Oberg: Pat Cena Samreny and Linda Levine do exceptional work as sisters whose abiding love goes hand-in-hand with abiding friction. Natalie Kindler hits the perfect tone with Lala and manages to make the character both moving and a bit ridiculous (not an easy task.) Sarah Charlier-Vermeire and Jeffrey Vermeire are, not surprisingly, very convincing as the young lovers (here's a hint -- reread their names). John E. Reilly and Jeremy Hois provide ample comedic support.

 

The Last Night of Ballyhoo continues through Sat., Nov. 27. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South (off Route 19), Canonsburg. 724-745-6300 or www.littlelaketheatre.org

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