The Last Night of Ballyhoo

by Alfred Uhry

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Joe Farkas
Joe Farkas is a Brooklyn Jew who has moved to the South to work for Adolph at the bedding company. Joe never went to college, but according to Sunny, he is ‘‘very bright.’’ Proud of his heritage, Joe is surprised to meet a family with no real sense of Jewish identity. Unlike the majority of the characters in the play, Joe manifests concern for the Jews in Europe, not simply because he has relatives there but because he feels a bond with his coreligionists. Joe is extremely sensitive to the prejudice that the Levys hold toward him—and any Eastern European Jews. When he finds out that the Standard Club does not allow his ‘‘kind’’ of Jew to belong, he leaves the dance and Sunny. He also accuses Sunny of ‘‘Jew hater talk.’’ However, he comes to regret his hard words and effects a reconciliation with her.

Adolph Freitag
The bachelor Adolph Freitag, who lives with the two widows, runs the family’s bedding business that was first started by their oldest brother, Sunny’s father, who is now dead. Of the older members of the family, Adolph is the only one who demonstrates any real recognition of the world outside of the Atlanta Jewish community; for instance, he shows concern over the situation in Europe, particularly with regard to the Jewish population. He enjoys a special bond with Sunny, a closeness not replicated with the airheaded Lala, and is pleased at the developing relationship between her and Joe. Despite these positive qualities, Adolph is not immune to the social snobbishness that afflicts his family; for example, he is a past president of the restricted Standard Club.

Reba Freitag
Reba Freitag, the widow of Boo and Adolph’s brother, shares a house with the two of them. Generally seen knitting, Reba is far more easygoing than her sister-in-law, but she also is a little vague. The play’s character notes describe her as ‘‘not quite in synch with everybody else.’’

Sunny Freitag
Sunny Freitag is Reba’s twenty-year-old daughter. She is the opposite of her cousin Lala, with her cheerful disposition, blond hair, and intellectual curiosity. Despite her so-called Aryan features, Sunny has been the victim of prejudice: when she was a teenager, she was kicked out of a private swimming pool in front of all her classmates. This experience has made her grow up feeling different from all her friends. She has returned from Wellesley, where she is majoring in sociology, for the Christmas holidays. Sunny is unique in her family. More openminded, she has never even heard the phrase ‘‘the other kind’’ and cannot fathom what it means. Although she disparages Atlanta’s Jewish social scene, she agrees to attend Ballyhoo with Joe. She grows increasingly fond of him in a short period of time, yet her deception in not telling him that the Standard Club is restricted threatens their burgeoning relationship. In the resulting fight, when she explains to Joe that she regards them as ‘‘equals,’’ Sunny reveals that she has been touched by the social snobbery that is so pervasive among her family. Unlike her family, however, Sunny comes to comprehend the inherent irrationality of disliking Jewish people simply because they come from Eastern Europe or New York or wherever, for she realizes that would be like hating herself. By the end of the play, having reconciled with Joe, she demonstrates a clear and real interest in exploring her religious and cultural background. Thus, Sunny, who previously believed that religion didn’t matter in today’s world, shows that she has undergone a major transformation.

Boo Levy
Beulah ‘‘Boo’’ Levy is a widowed...

(This entire section contains 1070 words.)

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southern matron. She and Lala live in the family home with her brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Worried that the unpopular and socially awkward Lala will never marry, her greatest concern seems to be getting Lala a date for Ballyhoo. She willfully tries to ignore the fact that Lala is unpopular because of personality issues, and she insists that Lala make use of the family’s social standing to win suitors. When Lala resists, Boo resorts to bullying, browbeating, and dominating tactics. Her methods pay off. Boo forces Lala to call Peachy Weil and makes her attend Ballyhoo, but by the end of the play, Peachy has proposed to Lala.

Boo holds social standing above all else. She is ecstatic about Lala’s engagement to Peachy—even though he makes no effort to conceal his offensive, boorish behavior—simply because he is a member of one of the South’s most well-regarded Jewish families. By contrast, she dislikes Joe Farkas because of his family background; she even calls him a ‘‘kike.’’ Like the rest of her family, Boo believes that German Jews, such as themselves, are superior to Eastern European Jews, such as Joe.

Lala Levy
Beulah ‘‘Lala’’ Levy is Boo’s socially awkward twentyish-year-old daughter. Having left college before finishing the first semester because she did not get pledged to the good Jewish sorority, Lala lives at home and seems to do very little with herself. She is prone to flights of fantasy. For instance, with the Atlanta movie premiere of Gone With the Wind, Lala declares herself an author. However, like her mother, her foremost desire is to obtain a date for Ballyhoo. When she first meets Joe, she sets her sight on him, but he prefers Sunny. This partiality unleashes Lala’s long-standing jealousy of her prettier, smarter, less stereotypically Jewish cousin. Lala thinks that Sunny has always gotten all the attention in the family. However, once Peachy asks her to attend Ballyhoo with him, she immediately feels superior to Sunny because she has a date with a member of one the South’s best Jewish families, whereas Sunny’s date is a ‘‘Yid.’’ Like her mother, Lala exalts their social position and looks down on people not of their milieu. Thus, Lala is delighted by Peachy’s proposal, despite the utter lack of romance or emotion involved.

PeachySee Sylvan Weil

Sylvan Weil
Sylvan ‘‘Peachy’’ Weil hails from a good Jewish family in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He has come to Atlanta with his family, and Lala and Boo have their eyes set on him as a Ballyhoo date. He is uncouth, socially inappropriate, and either completely unaware or disinterested in the offenses he inflicts on others, particularly Joe. Despite these glaring faults, Lala is delighted with his marriage proposal.

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