December 03, 2010

Ballyhoo to You Too

Lala Levy would love to be Scarlet O'Hara. Or write about her. Or at least watch her at the movies all day long. Lala's family would just like her to find someone to take her to Ballyhoo--the premier social event for Who's Who among the Southern Jews in 1939. What nobody wants is for a stranger from New York to upset their whole family with prickly issues of racism among their own. Alfred Uhry's "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" at Centre Stage is a hilarious look at how we all, no matter the race, discriminate against each other.

And since we're discriminating, I have to confess to some myself: The men are far and away the treat of this production. Straight man, heartthrob, and deliciously exaggerated scoundrel, they are all a delight to watch. Peter Haloulos plays the charming and ever put-upon Adolph Freitag--an elderly gentleman living with his two sisters and two nieces. His performance is lovable and true. Chris Cashon is completely beguiling as Joe Farkas, the stranger in their midst, "the other kind" of Jew, and Matthew Merritt plays such a believably affected rapscallion (Peach Weil, the blue-blood Jew of Louisiana) that you can't help but fall in love with him.

Among the women, Kelly Wallace consistently kept the laughs coming for her airy and charming Reba Freitag. And as for the rest, make no mistake, each came into her charming own in the second half of the play. Unfortunately for the actresses, Uhry charges his women with bearing large swaths of exposition and introduction in the first half of the show--exposition that hadn't quite found its way into the heart. But post-intermission, when all that back-story was out of the way and we knew who went with whom and why and what exactly was the matter with the odd duck Lala and the family mattress business and relations for two generations back, then the actresses found their cores and gave the men a run for their money (literally--lavish ball gowns, fits of hysteria and fainting, expensive deserts, and why on earth it is that women always go to the bathroom in groups).

Of course it's deeper than that, since what we're laughing about are issues of division, discrimination, cultural identity, war. But Uhry woos us with so much humor (who can't laugh at the delectable "Gone With the Wind" jokes? Or the age-old Christmas/Hanukkah quips?) that we find ourselves laughing to a broader compassion for our fellow men (and women).

So here's my advice to you. Grab someone you love (take a lesson from Boo Levy, and let nothing stop you), grab some tickets, and luxuriate in Rick Connor's comforting set. Listen well in the first half, laugh and laugh (and learn a little), and look forward to a little holiday romance with your special someone.

Alfred Uhry's "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" Directed by Chip Egan. Set: Rick Connor.

Presented by Centre Stage, 501 River Street, Greenville, SC (864) 233-6733. Through December 18. Tickets $25, with discounts for seniors and students.

Posted by stephanie at December 3, 2010 10:00 AM | TrackBack