The Last Night of Ballyhoo

by Alfred Uhry

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Act IThe 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 he is disturbed about Adolf Hitler’s attack on Poland. Boo thinks he should be concerned with his own family instead, and then she complains that Adolph favors Sunny. Adolph reminds her that Sunny’s father took care of them all after their father died. Boo also complains because she never got to work in the family business even though she got better math grades in school than either of her brothers. After Adolph and Reba have left, the phone rings. It is Peachy Weil calling for Lala. Peachy is coming to Atlanta the day after Christmas, but he does not ask Lala to Ballyhoo. Boo picks up the phone to call Peachy’s aunt and set things straight.

That night, Sunny and Adolph are playing cards, and Reba is sitting nearby, knitting. A conversation develops about a local girl who went crazy after going to teachers’ college. Sunny never heard about this story, and Reba confesses it’s because the girl was ‘‘the other kind.’’ Sunny doesn’t understand what her mother means, and Reba explains that the phrase refers to Jews who are from Eastern Europe instead of Germany, like them. Reba and Adolph claim that...

(This entire section contains 1428 words.)

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‘‘the other kind’’ can be identi- fied by their appearance.

Boo and Lala return from seeing Gone With the Wind, which Lala thinks is a masterpiece. Then Joe comes to the door, bringing some figures for Adolph. Adolph insists that Joe have some coffee, and Lala goes to the kitchen to make it. Alone with Sunny, Joe asks her if she and her family are really Jewish. Sunny insists that she always just wanted to be like everyone else, but Joe thinks that she is. To show he is wrong, Sunny tells him about the summer when she was going into the seventh grade and she was at the Venetian Club Pool with her friends. A man came by the pool and called out her name and then told her that Jews were not allowed to swim in the club pool. Joe then asks Sunny out for a date and leaves shortly thereafter. When Lala finds out that Joe has asked Sunny to Ballyhoo, she gets angry and calls Joe aggressive. Lala and Sunny argue about who gets more attention in the family, and Lala says that Sunny is a hypocrite because she is going to Ballyhoo even though she claims she doesn’t care about going. Lala points out that she will be going to Ballyhoo with someone who belongs there—‘‘a Louisiana Weil’’—whereas Sunny will be going with ‘‘a New York Yid.’’

Act II Act II opens the next day. Lala and Boo are arguing because Lala refuses to call Peachy. Lala eventually calls, but Peachy has already left for Atlanta. Boo calls the cook and asks her to check if Peachy’s tuxedo is in his closet. When they find out it is not, Lala and Boo take this as positive proof that Peachy is going to take Lala to Ballyhoo. They go shopping for a new dress. That night, Lala models her new dress, which is an unbecoming hoop skirt. Sunny and Joe come in from their date. He dances with Lala but manages to step on her dress and tear it. Boo and Lala go upstairs to fix the dress. Adolph gives Joe tickets to Ballyhoo; he gets them free because he is a past president of the club, which is restricted to wealthy Jews. Joe leaves, and Sunny and Adolph talk about love.

The next scene takes place on Christmas Day. The presents have been opened. Peachy Weil comes over, and he and Lala exchange impertinent quips, but eventually he officially invites her to Ballyhoo. The next evening finds Peachy and Joe awaiting their dates. The talk turns to war in Europe, but it is clear that Peachy cares little about the events there. The couples depart for Ballyhoo.

At Ballyhoo, while Sunny and Lala are in the ladies’ room, Joe learns from Peachy that the Standard Club, which hosts the dance, is a closed club. ‘‘The other kind’’ of Jews attend the Progressive Club; the Standard Club is only for German Jews. However, Joe shouldn’t be worried about being treated poorly, since Adolph once was a president of the club. Furious, Joe leaves the party, leaving Sunny to wonder what happened. She gets a ride home from a friend. However, Joe comes by the house later. He and Sunny angrily discuss why he left Ballyhoo. He doesn’t think she should have taken him to a club that discriminates against Jews, and Sunny retorts that she didn’t think it would make a difference; according to Sunny, the Standard Club is nothing at all like the Venetian Club. The fight escalates with Joe accusing Sunny of speaking ‘‘Jew hater talk.’’ The two part. Then the doorbell rings. It is Lala. Peachy has proposed, and she and Boo are thrilled.

The final scene takes place one week later on a train approaching Wilmington, Delaware. Sunny is in her sleeping compartment when there is a knock on her door. It is Joe. At first he claims he is on the train because he is in the area for work and, besides, Adolph asked him to check up on her. However, he later admits that he drove all the way to the train just to see her. Sunny says that Joe’s ‘‘Jew hater talk’’ can’t be true because it would be as if she hated herself. She apologizes for taking him to Ballyhoo. Joe and Sunny confess to missing each other and end up kissing and crying. The train is about to depart, so Joe must leave. Sunny is sad, but Joe tells her that they have the whole future ahead of them and to ‘‘think of something really good, and we’ll just make it happen.’’ What Sunny thinks of is dinner at her home in Atlanta, with Adolph, Boo, Reba, Lala, and Peachy already seated. Sunny and Joe join them, and Sunny lights the Sabbath candles and says the blessing.