Last Night of Ballyhoo

Raleigh Little Theatre
Through April 24

The Last Night of Ballyhoo is Alfred Uhry’s other big play, after, of course, Driving Miss Daisy. In Ballyhoo, which receives an enjoyable, if somewhat stiff, staging from Raleigh Little Theatre, the setting is Atlanta, Ga., in 1939, when the two big events are the debutante circuit and the local premiere of Gone With the Wind. In a wealthy neighborhood, women fuss over their daughters as they angle for Mr. Rights to escort them to the cotillions. The catch here is that we’re in the little-known world of old-time Southern Jewry. In the home of Adolph Freitag, a bachelor businessman presides over an unusual full house: his sister Boo and sister-in-law Reba, and their daughters, the foolish, nervous Lala and the more assured Sunny. The play’s action concerns the girls’ anxiety over their suitors and the upcoming social season, while Uhry’s script explores a world in which Atlanta’s complacent German Jews celebrate Christmas and tell themselves that they’re not the “other kind,” meaning Jewy Jews from Eastern European shtetls. The Ballyhoo of the title is the premier social event for Southern Jews, who conveniently forget that they’re not allowed into similar Gentile gatherings.

It’s fascinating sociology mixed with satisfying romantic drama. Highlights among the performers include Izzy Burger as Lala, and Debra Grannan in the thankless role of Lala’s bigoted, social-climbing mother. Jeff Cheek nails his one-liners as dear old Adolph, but director Haskell Fitz-Simons errs in having him make a meal of a sentimental speech about a girl on a trolley. Of the show’s two young suitors, second-act arrival Brian Jackson Gill gives the show a jolly kick in the pants, but Erich Reinhard’s Joe, an ambitious Eastern European Jew from Brooklyn, is a too-pleasant fellow in short supply of the barely suppressed proletarian ragenot to mention the Brooklyn accentthat the character requires. Elizabeth Newton’s set of the Freitag home is suitably capacious, but important characters (and whatever they said) get swallowed up at a table located far upstage; short scenes outside the homeincluding the play’s codaare poorly staged in front of the proscenium curtain. Despite such lapses, though, it’s to the credit of Uhry’s sturdy, genteel script and the committed cast that this production is as satisfying and edifying as it is.