Theater Notes: Disarmingly hilarious yet dealing with real issues
“Last Night At Ballyhoo,” a 1997 Academy Award winning play, is on the boards at The Laboratory Theater of Florida. It’s a delightful night- out and if you have yet to know the magic of Theater Lab, go for this gem before it closes on April 30.
Alfred Uhry is the playwright, and he really knows what he’s doing. Do you remember, “Driving Miss Daisy?” This play takes us to 1939. The place is Atlanta, Georgia. And the issue is the annual, terribly important social event called “Ballyhoo” put on by the elitist German Jews of Atlanta. Brace yourself for some ugly prejudice.
We meet the two Freitag sisters and one brother in law, all living together after each of the sisters’s spouses have died. The two sisters have daughters, and must have escorts for “Ballyhoo.” The contenders need to be carefully screened. The family has been raised to look down their noses at any Jews from Poland, Russia or the Balkan countries. It’s ugly to be confronted with that prejudice even as Hitler moves to invade Poland.
But that’s where the plot takes us, and the melodrama explodes. You will be glad to be a witness to the happenings of the evening, because despite all the laughter, truth is everywhere. I attribute so much of the joy to the gifted hands of the director, Annette Trossbach. First, she has assembled a solid cast, and there is not a bad performance in the bunch. All seven of them reach for the richness in the fine script. But, it is Trossbach who wove the tapestry that includes a remarkable set designed by Michael Eyth. He gives us a plush living room on that tiny stage, and a curvaceous stairway right out of “Gone With The Wind,” that just coincidentally has its opening night in Atlanta right before “Ballyhoo.” Trossbach utilizes all of it. For us in the audience, the end result is pure satisfaction.
John Repa, who plays the brother in law, Adolph, gave a superb performance as he anchors the family, and gets in some of the best one-liners: “I heard Roosevelt was really a Rosenberg.” He doesn’t carry the worship of “Ballyhoo.” It’s not much more than a high school prom to him. Reba, the less hysterical sister is played very shrewdly by Amy Tardiff, fitting in her love of theater with her day job as WGCU’s award-winning FM station manager and news director. Her daughter, Sunny, is deliciously played by Kate Dirrigl, who brings an extra sunshine to all the hoopla surrounding “Ballyhoo.” Top kudos to you Ms. Dirrigl.
Now the noisiest and most frantic daughter and niece, Lala, is handled by a captivating 16-year-old, junior and theater major at Cypress Lake High School Center for the Arts. She is Lexie Anne Cole, tall, gorgeous and contagious. Poor thing has freckles she hates and piles on make- up to cover them up. But nothing covers up her enthusiasm and fury to get to “Ballyhoo.” Does she go and with whom? Go see for yourself. I predict a sell out for “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.”
So get your tickets fast. Call (239) 218-0481 or go to laboratorytheaterflorida.com. We all must work to keep live theater live. Theater can change lives. See it happen at Lab Theater.