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A Warm 'Night of Ballyhoo'

September 26, 2000|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The biggest thing in Lala Levy's life at the moment is getting invited by an available young man to "The Last Night of Ballyhoo." It isn't that easy. She's paranoid about having dropped out of college and about practically everything else in her life. And her control-freak mother, Boo Levy, doesn't make anything easier.

Alfred Uhry, whose "Driving Miss Daisy" was a hit on the stage and in its film version, has written an old-fashioned family play, currently at Huntington Beach Playhouse in a warm and enjoyable production.

It's December 1939, and the household is getting ready for Christmas, which in the Atlanta of that time isn't unusual for one of the more visible Jewish families in town. Along with sister-in-law Reba Freitag and daughter Sunny, the Levys are living under the protection of Boo's brother Adolph, a patriarch with too much humor and gentleness to really be a patriarch.

The big event for the Freitags and Levys, and the other Jewish families in the area, is Ballyhoo, a series of celebrations for the young marriageables in the group, with attendees from all over the South. The biggest night of all is a formal dance at a local Jewish club, the last night of Ballyhoo. Lala's whole life seems to depend on being invited. Sunny isn't so worried, and there's the main conflict in this charming period piece.

Director Jack Millis knows the territory, and gives even Uhry's very brief and almost casual mention of Hitler and local anti-Semitic feelings the right tone. He also, with an exception, maintains the right shadings of familial bickering and affection.

The exception is the constant arguments between Boo and her fractious daughter Lala. Millis allows them to become too harsh, when a lighter touch would have the same effect, and keep these two characters from becoming so unlikable that they lose almost all sympathy. Otherwise Lee Anne Moore, as Boo, and Lorianne Hill, as Lala, are well-cast. Hill is particularly effective when she's not snarling.

Michael Flaherty's Adolph is a charmer, restrained and full of impish humor, and Leslie Williams is a great delight as Adolph's smiling sister-in-law Reba.

The love interest is handled beautifully by Amanda Loomer as Sunny, quickly charmed and invited to the dance by a new employee at Adolph's firm, Joe Farkas, who is played with proper cut and dash by John Warner. Lala's date, Peachy Weil, appears only in the later moments of the play, but Jay Cramer's light comic touch makes his moments a standout.

A Huntington Beach Playhouse production of Alfred Uhry's comedy. Produced by Don McAllister, Bettie Muellenberg. Directed by Jack Millis. Scenic design: Mickey England. Sound design: Jack Millis. Costume design: Donna Fritsche. Stage manager: Nancy Collier.

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