In his second play, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Alfred Uhry explores the lives of Jewish southerners, a society that he introduced to the American theater-going public with his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Driving Miss Daisy. The setting and plot of The Last Night of Ballyhoo developed from stories Uhry heard growing up in a southern Jewish family, as well as his own experiences. As he told Don Shewey from American Theatre, ‘‘I went to one of the last Ballyhoos there was, when I was 16—it was like a German-Jewish debutante ball.’’ However, Uhry also had a keen desire to explore Jewish identity, including prejudice inflicted on Jews by other Jews. Uhry combined these two interests to create the privileged world of the Levy/Freitag families. They live in a large home on one of Atlanta’s finest streets. They belong to an elite country club. Their children may attend prestigious private universities. All these trappings and conveniences of wealth, however, cannot change the fact that they are Jews who live in an overwhelmingly Christian society. The prejudice that they experience as a result of their religion does not deter them from embracing mainstream southern society or from replicating this discrimination within their own culture; German-Jews such as the Levys and Freitags look down on ‘‘the other kind’’ of Jews— Eastern European Jews. While The Last Night of Ballyhoo deftly explores this anti-Semitism, Uhry also intersperses his serious message with sparkling banter, comedic non sequiturs, and hilarious charac ters and characterization. The Last Night of Ballyhoo was first produced at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 and went to Broadway the following year; its playscript is available from Theatre Communications Group.
The Last Night of Ballyhoo opens in the living room of the Freitag/Levy home, where Lala is decorating a Christmas tree. It is 1939 in Atlanta, Georgia, the afternoon of the premiere of Gone With the Wind. Boo comes into the room and starts talking to Lala about calling Peachy Weil to get a date for Ballyhoo, which is now less than two weeks away. Boo ruins Lala’s good mood, and she goes rushing from the room. Boo is worried because Lala is unmarried and unpopular. Reba confesses that Sunny does not have a date for Ballyhoo either. While the sisters-in-law are talking about their children, Adolph arrives home. He tells the women he has invited Joe Farkas, a new employee, home for supper. When Joe arrives, Boo gets annoyed that she has not been told that he is working for the family company. The women retire to the kitchen, and Lala comes downstairs. She suggests that Joe attend the movie premiere with her that evening.
After dinner, conversation shifts to Joe’s family and whether he will go home for Christmas. Joe explains that his family doesn’t celebrate Christmas but he will be going home for Pesach, or Passover. The Levys don’t celebrate Passover. They went to Passover one year when Lala was in fifth grade, and Lala remembers it as boring. She is more interested in finding out whether Joe will be in town for Ballyhoo. They explain Ballyhoo to Joe: it is a social party that young Jewish people from all over the South attend. Then Lala again suggests that Joe and she go downtown, but Joe says he must go home since he has to catch a train early the next morning. After he leaves and Lala has gone upstairs, Boo turns to her brother and says, ‘‘Adolph, that kike you hired had no manners.’’
The next scene opens five days later aboard a southern-bound train. Sunny is in a sleeping compartment reading a book when Joe knocks on the door. Adolph had asked him to check in on Sunny to see if she needed anything. Sunny and Joe get into a conversation that ends in his asking her to go to Ballyhoo with him.
The next scene returns to the Freitag house. It is the morning that Sunny’s train is due to arrive, and Adolph plans on meeting her. While he waits for Reba to get dressed, he comments that...
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