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Shared Roots Trip Up a Budding Romance
The witty 'Last Night of Ballyhoo' gently explores assimilation among the Southern Jewish elite
Theater Review by Philip Brandes, Special To The Los Angeles Times

"Just because we have a Christmas tree doesn't mean we're not Jewish," claims Sunny, a self-conscious Southern socialite, to a Yankee guy she likes, even though he's from the other side of the tracks.

"Just that you don't want to be," counters her incredulous date, Joe, piercing with a single line the carefully nurtured vanities of 1939 Atlanta's "assimilated" Jewish aristocracy.

In the notably well-cast Colony Theatre Company production of Alfred Uhry's "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," gently resonant comeuppances like this hark back to the romance-tinged class warfare of "The Philadelphia Story."

Mixing incisive, Philip Barry-esque wit with the humane, warm-toned Southern charm you'd expect from the author of "Driving Miss Daisy," Uhry's Tony award-winning play slyly explores the most unexpected form of anti-Semitism--prejudice among Jews themselves.

The common bond of their faith is more of an obstacle than an icebreaker for Mia Wesley's Sunny and Gil Bernardi's Joe. Sunny's wealthy family has succeeded in eradicating virtually every Jewish element from their lifestyle, while Joe clings to his casual Brooklyn neighborhood roots. "You smell like a rose and I smell like a salami," Joe succinctly observes.

* * *

As he did in "Daisy," Uhry skillfully couches life lessons in the convincingly everyday foibles of his carefully drawn characters, as Joe and Sunny learn to recognize and overcome their own mistrusts. Though the shadow of Hitler's invasion of Poland looms in the background, the focus of Sunny's insular community is on securing a prestigious date for Ballyhoo, the high point of the social season.

Unexpectedly, and to her credit, Sunny is drawn to Joe, an ambitious but struggling new employee in her uncle's company. Here, these two perfectly matched performers weave a beautifully nuanced dance out of their awkward path to mutual understanding and acceptance.

Director Scott Segall extends that clarity to each member of the ensemble, which includes Blaise Messinger as the breezily indulgent family patriarch, and Leslie Bartlett as Sunny's bubble-headed mom. Randi Lynne Weidman is the hilariously gauche cousin Lala (clomping down the stairs doing battle with costume designer Allison Achauer's bulging hoop skirt), while Leslie Bartlett is her pushy, social-climbing mother. Chad Borden makes a memorable late appearance as Lala's snobbish suitor.

Amid Alex Grayman's finely detailed set, these fine performances manage to sell even Uhry's abruptly reconciliatory ending, which depicts the characters in a state of mutual good feeling without telling us how they got there. Too bad--that recipe would come in handy in a lot of divided households.

Copyright 2001, The Los Angeles Times
Reprinted with Permission 
The Last Night of Ballyhoo at the Colony Theatre