Play conveys struggle through humor
Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 23:01
Theater buffs need not travel to New York City because there is a Broadway show right in our backyard. UCF presents Alfred Uhry's The Last Night of Ballyhoo, a comedic play that takes place in 1939 Atlanta and brings spectators into the home of a Jewish family struggling with their identity. Living in a predominantly Christian neighborhood, the Freitag family has conformed to some Christian customs, even having a Christmas tree in their living room.
The pressure is on for young Lala Levy (Carine Gaito) to find a date to take her to the Ballyhoo dance – pressure mostly from her mother Boo Levy (Kristin Shoffner). After dropping out of college, Lala seems to be a lost soul and her mother is concerned she will never find a husband. Tensions ascend even higher when newcomer and New York City native Joe Farkas (Kevin Alonso) enters their home and rejects Lala's invitation to the dance.
The play is chock-full of the air-headed comments of Reba Freitag (Katie Thayer), worthy of comparison to the likes of Betty White; it is also sprinkled with the masterful comedic timing of Peachy Weil (Parker Slaybaugh). Slaybaugh is primarily a musical theatre performer, although his performance will have audiences convinced that he specializes in straight plays.
Although viewers are certain to swing their heads back in laughter throughout the show, there are also serious connotations in the play dealing with "Jewish hate talk," as Joe puts it while arguing with his romantic counterpart Sunny Freitag (Allison Walter). Similarly, Lala very ostentatiously displays her insecurities about her Jewish features.
Again and again you hear remarks about the "other kind," referring to the Eastern European Jewish community that faces stigmatization from the Western European Jews in Atlanta. This unconventional Jewish family is seemingly oblivious of the persecution their people are facing at the time; they even make remarks about Adolf Hitler such as, "Oh, he doesn't count," as if Hitler were a harmless and insignificant man.
The plot is rich with World War II history, but does not reel too far away from the family ties and multifaceted relationships of the Freitags.
Director Tad Ingram is positive that anyone with a big family will be able to relate to the play and doing so for his cast members came naturally.
Alonso said that his Cuban/Filipino heritage made it easy for him to relate to the big family dilemmas in the play.
"Most of us have known each other for three or four years," Thayer said. She credits that familiarity within the cast members to her ability to portray a woman at home with the family.
Although getting along like a family came easy, playing roles of middle-aged adults was a bit more challenging for the young cast members. Ingram says that selecting actors for the role of Reba, Boo and Adolph Freitag (Robert Svetlik) required a certain "earth-bound movement" that many young actors did not possess.
"It's something you either have or don't have, and these guys just have it," Ingram said.
The show opened on Jan. 19 and has already gained notoriety from the Orlando Sentinel and UCF students alike.
"It was great," first-year theatre major Emily Schwartz said. "My favorite show at UCF in the past year."
The Last Night of Ballyhoo will be showing Jan. 26-29 at the Theatre UCF Main Stage. Performances will begin at 8 p.m. on Jan. 26-28. There will be a Sunday matinee on Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $17 for the general public, $15 for seniors and $10 for students with IDs. For more information about ticket prices and group discounts, call the box office at (407) 823-1500.