‘The Last Night of Ballyhoo.’
By Sue Langenberg
The last production of season 85 of Winneshiek Players was presented this weekend, “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” directed by Tana Gundry and written by Alfred Uhry whose previous successful work was “Driving Miss Daisy.”
The play is a sometimes comedic, sometimes serious dichotomy of cultures and characters against a backdrop of 1939 where world war was unfolding. The setting is in Atlanta, however, where much ado about Scarlet O’Hara is equally considered. The contrast plays out as a timeless comment on how people relate to each other in good times as well as bad.
The best recipe of characters in one household and one day presents the action as opposites attract and distract. Seven characters are involved as they swirl around each other in their own dysfunctions. At the helm of the household is Adolph Freitag trying to understand and find his place among a gaggle of women. Played by seasoned actor Rich Burkinshaw, he is a successful businessman, solid in his convictions and most reactive to nonsense. Well-cast Burkinshaw resonated a deep voice and strong presence for the role.
His most extreme household nemesis was found in character aptly named Lala Levy, a lightweight in la-la-land about “Gone With the Wind” and its impact on her dreamy, starry-eyed existence. She is happiest dreaming that one day a romantic novel will come from her inspiration and that she’ll perhaps sweep about with full skirts and tiaras cotillion-clad in Southern plantations. Her relentless lack of serious thought was well played by Eryn Faught.
Urging her on is her mother Beaulah “Boo” Levy, played by Fiona Howard, a relentless and pushy presence worrying about society’s hoopla and artificial social ladders that her daughter might climb. Sister-in-law Reba is a quieter presence with light wisdom and often little wisdom when she seems most empty-headed, much like Edith in “All in the Family.” Pat Leitzen Fye portrayed this manner of far off look well with an equal brand of dizziness.
As often as opposites give birth to each other, her daughter Sunny (“We couldn’t name her cloudy!”) is a deep thinker, good student and worldly with her common sense. As her character developed, it was clear that Amie Bommelje was well cast to bring the real romantic lead to the family with class and taste in her work. Her affection for handsome character Joe Farkas, played by equally handsome David Jacobs, was the key to all the prejudices and seriousness that brought this family to their own conclusions.
And, in conclusion, dizzy Lala deserves a relationship with Sylvan “Peachy” Weil, an outspoken and most obnoxious character played well by Andrew D. Golz
While the recipe of characters in this play was inherently dynamic and key to much comedy, there were inherent weaknesses as well. Buried in the script and aside from good acting and direction, the story brings a certain lack of movement that makes it difficult to arrest the timing for a spontaneous flow of action. Thus, the story relies too heavily on nuances of dialogue that only a well-versed audience tuned into history might appreciate.
Yet, Friday evening’s performance was well-attended and a pleasure to experience a community supporting community theatre.