NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – This year’s Fall Festival play at Bethel College packs plenty of laughs but carries a serious undertone.
The three performances of The Last Night of Ballyhoo by Alfred Uhry will be Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 1 at 3:30 p.m. and Oct. 2 at 2 p.m., all in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center on the Bethel campus.
Ticket prices vary. Tickets are available at Thresher Shop in Schultz Student Center during regular business hours or in the Luyken Fine Arts Center ticket office starting one hour before each performance, subject to availability. Call 316-284-5205 for ticket information.
Like Uhry’s first and better-known play, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Driving Miss Daisy, The Last Night of Ballyhoo (his second play) looks at the lives of Jewish Southerners. And, as with Driving Miss Daisy, Ballyhoo grew out of stories Uhry heard and experiences he had growing up Jewish in Atlanta in the 1930s and ’40s.
After the success of Driving Miss Daisy, the Cultural Olympiad approached Uhry to write a play for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The result was The Last Night of Ballyhoo, which won a Tony Award for Best Play in 1997.
Ballyhoo is set in Atlanta in December 1939. The movie Gone with the Wind is about to have its world premiere, Hitler is invading Poland, and Atlanta’s elitist German Jews are much more preoccupied with who is going to Ballyhoo, a lavish cotillion ball, and with whom.
Especially concerned is the Freitag family: Adolph, a bachelor, his widowed sister, Beulah (Boo), and their widowed sister-in-law, Reba. Boo is determined to have her daydreaming daughter, Lala, attend Ballyhoo, believing it will be Lala’s last chance to find a socially acceptable husband.
Adolph brings his new assistant, Joe Farkas, home for dinner. Joe is Brooklyn born and bred and, furthermore, of Eastern European heritage – several social rungs below the Freitags, in Boo’s opinion. Nevertheless, Lala is charmed by Joe – but she faces competition from her cousin, Reba’s daughter, Sunny, home from Wellesley for Christmas vacation.
John McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts and Ballyhoo director, says he had several reasons for choosing this play.
First, from a practical standpoint, “Fall Festival comes so soon in the fall semester, it’s prudent to choose a play with a small cast, that we can prepare quickly.”
Cast for Ballyhoo is Logan Hughes, Marana, Arizona, as Adolph Freitag; Polly Carlson, Hurley, South Dakota, as Boo Freitag Levy; Mikala Wertz, Wichita, as Reba Freitag; Cassie Voth, Littleton, Colorado, as Lala Levy; Madison Hofer-Holdeman, Wichita, as Sunny Freitag; Ryne Preheim, Reedley, California, as Joe Farkas; and Matthew Garber, Newton, as Peachy Weil, a visitor from Louisiana.
“I read this play years ago,” McCabe-Juhnke says, “and I thought, ‘This would be a great play for Bethel.’
“It’s a comic drama. Alfred Uhry is an expert in witty dialogue – he has an ear for Southern humor.
“But underneath is a very serious message. It’s interesting that here in 2016, we’re in a situation where some of us feel like we’ve been thrown back to the [prejudice and bias of the] ’60s, because of the conversations around Black Lives Matter.”
Set just before World War II, Ballyhoo points to the tensions between Western European Jews like the Freitag-Levy family, who have succeeded financially and assimilated culturally, and Joe Farkas, a New York-raised Eastern European Jew who looks at this family he has just met and “wonders if they are really Jews,” McCabe-Juhnke says.
“The point is – prejudice or bias in any form is harmful,” he notes.
Production staff for The Last Night of Ballyhoo, in addition to McCabe-Juhnke, is Ethan Koerner, scenic design and technical direction; Abby Phillips, Maple Hill, stage manager; Ben Carlson, Hurley, South Dakota, sound and lighting; Meredith Stone, Fresno, California, costumes; and Sutton Welsh, Wichita, properties. Members of the Theater Practicum class are serving as crew.
Ticket prices are $10 adults, $8 non-Bethel students and adults age 65 and older, and $7 children ages 3-12. Bethel students are $2 for the Friday night and Saturday afternoon shows and free on Sunday.