What does it mean to be Jewish at Christmastime?
|Project 891 Theatre Company presents|
|The Last Night of Ballyhoo|
|By Alfred Uhry
Directed by Jason W. Rost
North Lakeside Cultural Center, 6219 N. Sheridan (map)
Through Dec. 19 | tickets: $15 | more info
Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
Should a Jewish Christmas tree be topped with a star? That argument launches The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Alfred Uhry’s delectable examination of Southern Jewish culture in the mid-20th century, now playing in Project 891 Theatre Company’s nearly perfect site-specific production at Edgewater’s historic, 1914 Gunder Mansion (North Lakeside Cultural Center).
The year is 1939 and the place is Atlanta, where the film "Gone with the Wind" is having its premiere, while Hitler has begun his rampages in Europe.
Hitler seems remote to most of the Freitag family, complacent, long-established, well-to-do Southern Jews of German heritage, as they trim their Christmas tree. They’re part of an ingrained culture so assimilated they barely know what being Jewish is, other than to chafe at the bigotry of the gentiles who keep them from mixing in the South’s highest society. So they create their own, "a lot of dressed-up Jews dancing around wishing they could kiss their elbows and turn into Episcopalians," in turn manifesting their own anti-Semitism against "the other kind" — Jews more recently arrived, more religious, more obviously ethnic.
Uhry mined the true history of the South and his own upbringing here. The play’s name, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, refers to the big society event of the season for the well-heeled Southern Jewish younger set, a cotillion at the exclusive Standard Club.
At the outset, anxious, flighty Lala Levy, one of the daughters of the house, doesn’t yet have a date for this important night. Sensitive, prickly and awkward, Lala is a grave disappointment to her bossy, ambitious mother, Boo, who fears her daughter will never "take." Lala suffers in comparison to her prettier, brighter, collegiate cousin, Sunny Freitag, who shares the family home along with her fond, slightly vague mother, Reba. Boo’s bachelor brother, the long-suffering Adolph Freitag, nominally presides over the household, supporting them all in comfort with the family business, Dixie Bedding Co.
Into this mix comes handsome Joe Farkas, a new and highly valued employee at the firm, Brooklyn-born and unmistakably "one of the other kind." He sets the family at odds on a number of levels, ultimately challenging their perception of what it means to be Jews.
Commissioned for the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, was revised for its Broadway opening the following year. It deservedly received both the Tony and Outer Critics Circle awards for best play, as well as nominations for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Skillfully staged in the mansion’s wood-paneled front parlor, with seating for just 23, this intimate production features superb acting, notably from the senior members of the cast. Darrelyn Marx excels as the acerbic Boo, pushing and goading her daughter with tough love, portraying this unlikable character with power and empathy. Lori Grupp charms as Reba, and Larry Garner puts in a wonderfully wry performance as Adolph.
Liz Hoffman captures Lala’s painful gracelessness beautifully. Sarah Latin-Kasper makes a serene Sunny, and Jason Kellerman gives Joe a perfect balance between brashness and bewildered sensitivity. His smile when Sunny agrees to a date lights up the room. Austin Oie is hilarious as redheaded Peachy Weil, the well-born Louisiana wiseacre whom Boo hopes to capture for Lala.
For those who prefer their December entertainment without cloying overdoses of sentiment and good cheer, The Last Night of Ballyhoo offers everything a holiday show should have: Great performances, depth, humor and pathos.
Note: Allow time to find street parking
Darrelyn Marx (Boo) is pleased to be working with Project 891 Theatre. She was last seen playing the role of Mary in The Tallest Man at The Artistic Home where she also did Juno and the Paycock. Other Chicago credits include: The Flu Season with Black Sheep Productions; Griffin Theatre‘s The Robber Bridegroom; A Man of No Importance & Number the Stars at Apple Tree Theatre; 110 In the Shade & Bittersweet at Light Opera Works; Jane Eyre (Jeff Cit. for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical) at Circle Theatre; Barefoot in the Park & Steel Magnolias at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre; Grease at Theatre at the Center; A Christmas Carol at Provision Theatre; and Christmas As We Grow Older at City Lit Theatre. Special thanks to my husband, Ken, for all the love & support and to my good friend Ann Hoenig who is my ‘Jewish mom’ consultant!
Lori Grupp (Reba)- A native of Pittsburgh, Chicago audiences have seen Lori as "Lotte" in Lettice and Lovage, in Denise Druczweski’s Inferno and Medea with Backstage Theatre Company, the Midwest Premiere of Red Herring, as “Esther” in Today I am a Fountain Pen for Chicago Jewish Theatre, “Helen” in The Artistic Home Ensemble’s production of In the Boom Boom Room, “Sarah” in Harold Pinter’s The Lover, improvising Shakespeare in As We Like It for The Free Associates, and as a suburban dominatrix in Terrance McNally’s Noon.
Liz Hoffman: (Lala/Costume Designer) Liz is an actor and writer with a BA in theater and a BA in English from Loyola University. Liz has worked with various Chicago theater companies over the last few years, including Tire Swing, Player’s Ring, Speaking Ring, A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Co, Ground Up, Rubicon, Loop Players, and the Bailiwick Directors’ Fest. In addition, Liz has written short pieces for all of ARFTCo’s Christmas Spectaculars and was the winner of the Women’s Theater Alliance’s short play-off competition in 2007. Though she mainly calls Project 891Theatre home, Liz is also an ensemble member of A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre. And she makes kick-ass chocolate chip cookies.
Larry Garner (Adolph)was born in Atlanta, so his yiddischer poppa sure would have been tickled to see him perform in Ballyhoo. Between then and now he’s had an opportunity to work on the stages of such theatre companies as Steppenwolf, Collaboraction, Pegasus Players, Backstage, TimeLine Theatre, Raven Theatre, Seanachai Theatre, and most recently in the Oak Park Village Players’ production of Amadeus in the role of Salieri–for which he received high marks from the critics. He wishes to thank Jason and the folks of Project 891 for the chance to perform in a role like that of Uncle Adolph—so close to the spirit of his dad
Sarah Latin-Kasper (Sunny )was last seen operating a projector for Redmoon Theater‘s production of The Astronaut’s Birthday at the MCA. Other Chicago credits include The Love of the Nightingale with Red Tape Theatre and Swan Lake, also with Redmoon, at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Sarah is a graduate of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where she recently received her BFA. Some of her favorite CCPA credits include Peer Gynt and God’s Country.
Jason Kellerman (Joe) is very excited to be on stage in his first ever 891 production, as well as his first show this year, having taken 10 months off to recover from a martial arts injury. Previous Chicago credits include Donalbain in The Scottish Play and Lysander in 50 Minute Midsummer with First Folio Theatre, Pale in Burn This at the Greenhouse Theater, Macduff / Witch 2 in The Scottish Play with Candid Theater, and many others. Jason holds a B.S. in Theater from Northwestern University, class of 08, and a certificate in Musical Theater Performance. He’d like to thank his family and friends for all their support.
Austin Oie: (Peachy) Greetings! My name is Austin. I’m an actor. Most recently I’ve appeared in Cowboys #2/Cowboy Mouth with Baby Crow Productions, (a)Symmetry Cycle, SubUrbia with The Nine, and The Man Who Was Thursday with New Leaf Theatre. I also happen to be a photographer: atwww.austindoiephotography.com. Enjoy the show!
Jason W. Rost (Director) most recently served as the assistant director on Redtwists Theatre’s A Delicate Balance. He was also assistant director and dramaturg on Redtwists’s production of Equus. Jason is the founder of Hangar 9 Theatre Company for which he has directed productions of Boy’s Life by Howard Korder and Hesperia by Randall Colburn. Past credits with Project 891 Theatre Company include Epic Proportions in which he was a cast member. He is a graduate of the Southern Illinois University Theatre Department in Carbondale and a native of Oswego, IL. Jason would like to give a profound thank you to Ron and Liz for giving him the opportunity to direct the beautiful piece.
Victoria Jeans (SM) – is thrilled to be working with Project 891 Theatre. Other credits include: The Etiquette of Vigilance (Steppenwolf Theatre Company); Mary (Goodman Theatre); One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (The Gift Theatre); Sean Graney’s The Gas Heart as well asBig Love; The Waiting Room; The Landry News; On the Verge (Garrick Players). Victoria is a proud English major from Lake Forest College and has two cats named Wallee and Eva. Love and thanks to her friends and family. And as always, love to her person, Lubko!
Olivia Baker (ASM) has been an assistant stage manager at the Redtwist theatre since December 2009 working on Equus, A Delicate Balanceand Dracula for the Halloween season, along with being in charge of props, costumes, blood effects and weapons for Dracula. Before moving to Chicago, she worked with the Backstage Theatre Gang in St. Louis as a costume assistant and set crew member for movable sets and rotation.
Kiri Palm (ASM) A recent transplant to Chicago, Kiri is delighted to be working with Project 891 for the first time. Recent professional credits in stage management include Picasso at the Lapin Agile and All Shook Up! (McLeod Summer Playhouse). Many thanks to the cast, crew, and production team for their unending dedication, especially Jason for this amazing opportunity.
Neal Ryan Shaw (Dramaturg) recently dramaturged Scorched for Silk Road Theatre Project, and will work with them again in the spring for their production of Yellow Face. Neal dramaturged Let Them Eat Cake at About Face Theatre, where he also fulfilled a literary internship. A past dramaturgy fellow of the Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights’ Workshop, he is also a playwright and a contributor to Newcity Stage. Neal holds an M.A. from Illinois State University and a B.A. from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Learn more at nealryanshaw.com.
Steph Charaska (Scenic Designer)is originally from the chicagoland area and has been designing in Chicago since 2009. Her Chicago credits include Resurrection Blues (Eclipse Theatre Co.) And Then They Came For Me and Reefer Madness! The Musical (Brown Paper Box Co.) Carnaval and Beggars Banquet (Collaboraction) Epic Proportions (Project 891), Lend Me A Tenor(The Summer Place), and The Fantasticks (The Library Theatre). She also frequents East Haddam, CT to paint beautiful things for Goodspeed Musicals. Steph is a proud company member of Collaboraction Theatre. She received her BFA in Scenic Design/Art from the University of Illinois-Urbana. Thanks much to all my friends and family for their continued support! stephcharaska.com
Paige Sawin (Casting Director) After finishing an internship with Collaboraction Theatre Company in 2007 Paige moved on to complete the Casting Apprenticeship at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2008-2009. There, she connected with Red Tape Theatre. She joined the company as an ensemble member and casting director in 2009. Red Tape casting credits included Robert Oakes’ adaptation of Enemy of the People"by Henrik Ibsen, Martina Majok’s Mouse in a Jar, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Love of the Nightingale, Jennifer Barclay’s Obscura. She is currently casting RT’s winter production, Young Jean Lee’s Church and Pullman, Wa directed by Jaclyn Biskup. Non-casting credits include playing the role of Claudia in Hanger 9 Theatre’s Hesperia and was part of the Ensemble in a development work called Slide. She is also slotted to play Constance in Red Tape Theatre’s production of Will Enu’s Tragedy: A Tragedy in the spring. She wishes Jason Rost and the rest of the cast best of luck with "Ballyhoo!"