The Last Night of Ballyhoo by Alfred Uhry: an analysis for production

Originally published on Facebook Notes: July 19, 2014 at 3:01pm

Afred Uhry is best known for his wildly successful Driving Miss Daisy. This comedy (1997 Tony Award for Best Play ) is also set amidst the Jewish upper middle class of Atlanta, GA. The “Ballyhoo” of which they speak is something of a Jewish debutante ball where the German Jews make sure their daughters are in the running for joining the right families. Not only is Ballyhoo imminent but also the opening of the film “Gone with the Wind” and Christmas. The Frietag /Levy family has spent several generations becoming Atlanta gentility, perhaps at the expense of their cultural identity. There is no greater sign of this cultural fracture than the large lighted Christmas tree in the foyer. The central question of the play is, “What is more important who you are or who you appear to be?” The cultural identity themes will resonate with the descendants of Mexicans and Eastern Europeans of the Illinois Valley. Oh… And YES it is very funny. There are serious themes which are mostly dealt with in a very light manner.

Casting should be simple. All actors are Caucasian. The script calls for four actors in their 20s and three people in their mid-to-late 40s. Dialects are gentle Atlanta and Brooklyn Jewish. There is a 20-year-old male with bright red hair (Peachy Weil). This trait is essential and scripted as it is a feature that makes the character obviously “other.”

The creative team will have to up their ante for this show. There are three “sets.” A short scene set taking place in an anteroom of a country club, can be performed in front of the curtain with no props. There are two scenes in a sleeping compartment of the train which would have to be simply done. It would be difficult to hide this set piece during the main action taking place in an upper-middle-class Atlanta home. The time is December 1939 and costumes include business clothes, day clothes, two obviously handmade sweaters, and fancy dress formals. Peachy will probably need to color his hair or get a really, really good wig. A 1939 men’s hairstyle should be relatively short.


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