Tacoma Little Theatre’s ‘The Last Night of Ballyhoo’ Shows Jewish Family’s Loss of Identity
Play explores when an old-fashioned newcomer challenges this assimilated family’s new traditions on the eve of war.
March 9, 2016
Sunny (Jill Heinecke) takes a liking to Joe (Kelly Mackay), who is still trying to get to know Sunny better.
Sunny (Jill Heinecke) listens to her uncle Adolph (Russ Holm) reminisce his lost love
Joe (Kelly Mackay) patiently listens to the daydreaming Lala (Katelyn Hoffman) talk
Adolph (Russ Holm) and Boo (Stacie Hart) contemplate where their lives have gone to lead them to where they are now.
Following the tale of a German-Jewish family living in Atlanta Georgia, the play handles simultaneously the prejudices and progressiveness between American Jews in 1939, just before the U.S. joins World War 2.
The play starts with Lala Levy (Katelyn Hoffman) decorating a Christmas tree in the living room of the Jewish family’s household. The Freitag and Levy family grew up around closed off anti-semites and segregational Jews, which is one of the main themes of the play.
Lala and the rest of the family’s lives become even more complicated with the arrival of Adolph Freitag (Russ Holm)’s newest employee, Joe Farkas (Kelly Mackay), as well as the arrival of Lala’s more successful cousin, Sunny Freitag (Jill Heinecke).
Lala is somewhat childish, a constant dreamer, and prefers to remain within the house out of fear of everyone else outside. Meanwhile her mother, Boo Levy (Stacie Hart), is a stubborn but loving mother who wants her daughter to be successful, but can’t seem to pull her out of her shell. Boo also seems to follow the prejudicial thoughts shared with many others within their city.
When Adolph comes home from work with a new employee, Joe, a spiffy young Jewish man from New York, Joe becomes somewhat of a vessel for the audience as he is new in town and is unaware of the separation of the Jewish community nor people’s treatment of each other based upon that.
When Joe reveals himself to be a Eastern European Jew, Boo treats him with disdain, using his recoiling response towards Lala’s suddenly intrusive personality, as an excuse to talk ill of him.
The Jews in the Atlanta community seperate each other between German and Eastern European Jews, which is often either characterized through Boo’s attitude toward Joe or the community’s country club that run the Ballyhoo event.
With this in mind, the audience sees somewhat through Joe’s eyes what it is like to suddenly learn about a such a shocking problem within his own people.
pushing past prejudices emplaced by the overall community
Reba Freitag (Kim Holm) is another oblivious character, with a bubbly personality who also seems unconcerned with the importance of her Jewish heritage, a common theme amongst most of the characters. This trait is somewhat shared with Sunny, who is more open-minded and aware of who she is, but still doesn’t grasp its importance nearly as much as her intellectual equal, Joe.
The performances are quite entertaining, Russ Holm’s character Adolph is a lazy and snarky joker, who delivers most of the punch lines and humorous remarks. Russ Holm delivers as well, with well timed and acted jokes that can leave the audience dying of laughter.
Hoffman does a good job as Lala in emoting and showing this character’s conflict and fears. Heinecke also portrays her character, Sunny’s inner conflict very well, as the story shows this character’s sudden realization that not everything has to be the way it is, with the help of Joe.
Mackay does a good job in bringing to life Joe’s character and both his straight to the point personality and his somewhat “fish out of water” reactions to the ideals of this new community.
Stacie Hart and Kim Holm do well in playing Boo and Reba, respectively. The sister-in-law characters have some fun dialogue between them, and show different sides and results of the assimilated Jewish family.
With the story’s message about assimilation, the story does offer some good reasoning and motivation as to why the characters talk about what they believe in.
The conflicts and interactions Sunny faces between the other characters is always interesting, with each discussion offering a different view from the same problem.
With Sunny’s character being both progressive but also somewhat trapped in her family’s beliefs, her and Joe’s clashing of ideals offers some great moral lessons and revelations. Lala and Sunny also clash, with Lala being jealous of Sunny’s “non-Jew” features, whereas Lala sees herself as completely physically Jewish. Sunny is shocked by this statement, and never appears full of herself, merely surprised that her cousin thinks that way.
The Tacoma Little Theatre’s portrayal “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” is a good production and representation of the story. The humor is great and the characters are interesting and each have an important view on the difficult subject of cultural identity.
The story itself does bring up some interesting questions and views from a time period so complicated and with a culture so torn, the story never feels dull.