Main Street Theater (Through Dec. 12)
By HOLLY BERETTO
One of the joys of seeing a show at Main Street Theater is that you feel like you’re right in the middle of the action, thanks to the intimacy of the space. Main Street uses this to its fullest advantage with its latest production, a revival of Alfred Uhry’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo, a show that’s about identity and prejudice, as much as it is about family and frivolity.
It’s Atlanta. It’s December 1939. There’s a war brewing in Europe. And Gone with the Wind has jut premiered. But for the Levys, the most important thing going on is who will take Lala Levy to the big dance that happens on the last night of Ballyhoo, the event of the Jewish social season. Her mother, Boo, thinks that this might be Lala’s last chance to nab a husband, since Lala washed out of college in Michigan and has been spending days in her room, writing novels and radio plays. Lala’s dreaminess is in stark contrast to her cousin, Sunny, in town from Wellesley, where’s she’s simply flourishing.
In much the manner of Uhry’s most popular play, Driving Miss Daisy, this is a show in which layers unfold and reveal themselves like the languid peeling of an onion. As each layer is revealed, some new characteristic, some new resentment, some new clue about the Levy and Freitag families unfolds. In less capable hands, it could be a nightmarish mish-mash of over-performed emotions and well-worn clichés. Not so at our Main Street.
Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden plays Boo Levy, Lala’s mother, with formidable strength, channeling her relentless energy and project management into her daughter, picking, prodding, pushing, and balancing a woman’s love and desire to her child’s success against the societal confines of her day. Acting as a foil to Udden’s Boo is Jim Salners as her brother, Adolph Freitag. The patriarch of the family, head of the family business, he is even-tempered, supportive and self aware. Salners’ performance combines wry wit and great sympathy.
Dreamy Lala is played with both venom and ditziness by the delightful Liz Cascio. Bethany McCade, as Lala’s cousin Sunny, is stunning in her Main Street debut, offering up a performance that perfectly showcases Sunny’s conflicts of intellectualism and ignorance of her own heritage. Opposite Sunny as Joe Farkas, the man who falls in love with her and pushes her to find out who she is, Jamie Geiger’s Brooklyn accent may be uneven, but his indignation, his heart and his sense of self are gorgeously real.
At its heart, this play is about a family finding itself. The characters are Jewish and this is very much a show about what it means to be Jewish and, more importantly, what it means to deny that fact in order to get along to with others. Still, these are universal themes. Ayone who’s ever struggled to fit in, to try to be something you’re not, to explain why you believe what you do to others who don’t will recognize himself in the characters on stage. A play for the ages, this is a not-to-be-missed Main Street tour de force.
Photo by Ric Ornel Productions: Liz Cascio, Bethany McCade and Jamie Geiger at MST.