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A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

Theatre Jacksonville has opened a wonderful production of “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” by Alfred Uhry. The play opened on Broadway in 1997, received the 1997 Tony for Best Play, and ran for almost 600 performances. “Ballyhoo” is the second of Uhry’s “The Atlantic Trilogy,” which includes “Driving Miss Daisy” (1998 Pulitzer for Drama) and “Parade” (1999 Tony for Best Book). TJ’s production opened January 12, and will run through January 28, 2018, at 2032 San Marco Boulevard. Call 396-4425 for reservations.

The play is set in Atlanta in 1939, and begins in the home of the Freitag’s, where members of a well-off German-Jewish family live together. “Gone with the Wind” is premiering, and Hitler has invaded Poland. “Ballyhoo” refers to a German-Jewish festival held in Atlanta during the winter holiday season, which remained a tradition until the early 1980s. The festivities ended with a grand dance, which was the social event of the year. The story takes place on an absolutely gorgeous stage set by designer Tim Watson, who has styled a posh Mediterranean style 1930s home for the Freitags.

You get double your money’s worth with this play; a drama as well as a comedy. The drama centers around the experience of Jewish characters living in a Southern setting, and the underlying social conflicts between long-established “assimilated” German Jews who viewed Russian Jews — and others of Eastern European origin — with disdain. The comedy portrays romantic conflicts and pursuits, a reoccurring theme in theatre and literature. The story takes place on an absolutely gorgeous set by designer Tim Watson, who has styled a posh 1930’s Mediterranean style home for the Freitags.

The head of the household is the very funny confirmed bachelor Adolph Freitag (Leonard Alterman, reprising a role he did some twenty years ago at St. Augustine’s Limelight). He owns Dixie Bedding Company, which provides the financial life-blood of the family. He lives with four women, all relatives, but has never had a romantic relationship with a woman. Unless you count smiling at a woman on a daily streetcar ride for several months twenty years ago. One day, she didn’t take the streetcar, and his only romance ended.

His sister-in-law Reba (Heather Eggleston) is a widow who knits and watches the world go by while unknowingly making witty comments. Ms. Eggleston lives in St. Augustine and appeared in Limelight’s “Hedda Gabler.” Her first appearance on Theatre Jacksonville’s stage was in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”Abigail Hunger

Reba’s daughter Sunny (Danielle Dobies) is a college student, home for the holidays. She is lovely, intelligent, and cares little for class distinctions. Her life changes when a visitor comes to the Freitag’s home. Ms. Dobies appeared in the title role of “Cinderella” at TJ several years ago.

The visitor is a new salesman hired by Adolph. Joe Farkas is played convincingly by veteran actor Josh Taylor, one of the founders of The 5 & Dime Theatre Company. He is Jewish, with Russian/Polish heritage, comes from the streets of New York, and questions why prejudice and rejection exists within Atlanta’s Jewish community. And he and Sunny fall in love.

Glenna Leiga portrays Boo Levy, who is Adolph’s widowed sister. She doesn’t have a problem with their Jewish household putting up a Christmas tree, but won’t agree to a star at the top which would indicate Christian belief. Boo has one of the most dramatic moments in the play as she confronts her daughter with her shortcomings and demands that she do whatever is necessary to keep up the appearance of respectability; a date for the upcoming dance is critical. Ms. Leiga is a language professor at FSCJ, who is making her debut at Theatre Jacksonville.

Abigail Hunger is also making her Jacksonville theatre debut, as Lala Levy, Boo’s socially awkward daughter. She’s a college drop-out, who is enamored with the premier of “Gone With The Wind.” Adolph refers to her as “Scarlet O’Goldberg” when she proclaims she is writing a novel as a continuation of the story. She has written ONE line, which is reflective of her life to this point; stopping and starting without direction. Her antics provide much of the comedy in this play and are hilarious.

The final character is Peachy, well played by Ryan Kielmannin a marvelous first time stage debut, who appears in the second act. As implied by his name, the role is that of a wild and somewhat goofy guy, one who knows how to climb the social ladder. His bright red hair was created just for this show by actress-stylist Ilana Gould of Anthony’s Salon.

Director Curtis Williams has assembled a picture-perfect cast and kept the production fast-paced. This is his ninth production at Theatre Jacksonville, where he has directed, choreographed, and costumed a number of great musicals.

Costume Designer Tracy Olin has recreated the costumes of era accurately, along with a recreation of Scarlett’s green dress. She has costumed over fifty productions in the Jacksonville theatre world.

The technical production team included Curtis J. Williams (Director), Tim Watson (Scenic & Lighting Designer), Tracy Olin (Costume Designer), Brady Corum (Assistant Technical Director), Mackenzie Geers (Stage Manager), Savannah LeNoble & Michelle Simkulet (Properties), Mark Rubens (Light Board Operator), and Ron Haynes (Sound Board Operator).

“Ballyhoo” was a widely popular play for a couple of years after the 1997 Tony Awards. Players by the Sea christened its new theater on 10th North Street in Jacksonville Beach back in 1999 with this play, and Gainesville’s Hippodrome and St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre also staged productions; one included a performance at the Wilson Center. This is a theatre classic you won’t want to miss.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.