Jewish identify and the tensions within the Jewish community, circa 1939, between Jews of German descent and “the other kind” of Jews who called the shtetls (little towns) of Eastern Europe home are the twin subjects of American Jewish playwright Alfred Uhry’s Tony Award®-winning 1997 romantic comedy, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, playing Thursday-Sunday, now through April 24th, on Raleigh Little Theatre’s Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage. There were some rough spots in last Friday’s opening-night performance; but all in all it was a crowd-pleasing production.
Jeff Cheek stars as beleaguered bedding manufacturer Adolph Freitag, who not only much battle business ups-and-downs but must smooth roiled waters on the homefront as his strident widowed sister Beulah “Boo” Levy (Debra Zumbach Grannan) tries to run roughshod over his widowed sister-in-law Reba Freitag (Donna Rossi-Youngblood) in a variety of matters, ranging from the running their joint household to the relative merits of their two very different daughters.
Lala Levy (Izzy Burger) is an awkward, high-strung, and somewhat childish University of Michigan dropout who is obsessed with the hoopla surrounding the premiere of Gone with the Wind a few block away from her Atlanta, GA home. Sunny Freitag (Kate P. Bowra) is everything that her cousin Lala is not — an outstanding student at Wellesley College, supremely self-confident, and a reader of the books of muckraker Upton Sinclair and socialist Eugene V. Debs.
Erich Reinhard as Adolph Freitag’s poor but promising Brooklyn-born assistant Joe Farkas and Brian Jackson Gill as Lake Charles, LA playboy and inveterate practical joker Sylvan “Peachy” Weil provide intriguing love interests for Sunny and Lala, respectively.
Despite illness, long-time RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons and associate director Bunny Safron have pulled this show together rather well. Scenic designer Elizabeth Newton, lighting designer Michael E. Baggesi, and costume and wig designer Vicki Olson also deserve commendations for enhancing the authenticity of the proceedings.
There is definite chemistry between Kate Bowra as eponymous Sunny and Erich Reinhard as her earnest Joe and between the hilarious Brian Gill as Peachy and Izzy Burger as the ditzy Lala. Debra Grannan’s Boo and Donna Rossi-Youngblood’s Reba make excellent antagonists, with Jeff Cheek’s playing the genial peacemaker between his overbearing sister and ostensibly meek but secretly shrewd sister-in-law.
The struggle within the heavily assimilated Freitag-Levy family over whether to embrace their Jewish heritage makes The Last Night of Ballyhoo especially interesting. Raleigh Little Theatre audiences will enjoy this offbeat romantic comedy with bite.
SECOND OPINION: April 13th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by David Fellerath (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-last-night-of-ballyhoo-at-raleigh-little-theatre/Content?oid=2365787; and April 9th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Denise Cerniglia: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/04/raleigh-little-theaters-the-last-night-of-ballyhoo-is-full-of-wit/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the April 8th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/04/alfred-uhrys-the-last-night-of-ballyhoo-is-a-tony-award®-winning-romantic-comedy/.)
Raleigh Little Theatre presents THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO at 8 p.m. April 15 and 16 and 21-23, and 3 p.m. April 17 and 24 in the Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $20 ($16 students and seniors 62+).
BOX OFFICE: 919/821-3111 or http://www.etix.com/.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows.
The Play: http://dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2480 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Night_of_Ballyhoo (Wikipedia).
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Uhry (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.