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CCRI Players to stage 'The Last Night of Ballyhoo'
Dec. 4, 2012
The Community College of Rhode Island Players will present “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” Alfred Uhry’s Tony Award-winning play, Dec. 6 to 9 at the college’s Flanagan Campus, 1762 Louisquisset Pike, Lincoln.
The play is set in the upper-class German-Jewish community in Atlanta in December 1939. Hitler has recently conquered Poland, “Gone with the Wind” is about to premiere and Adolph Freitag, owner of the Dixie Bedding Co.; his sister, Boo Levy; sister-in-law, Reba; and nieces Lala and Sunny – a Jewish family so highly assimilated they have a Christmas tree in the front parlor – are looking forward to Ballyhoo, a lavish cotillion sponsored by their restrictive country club.
Freitag’s new employee, Joe Farkas, born and raised in Brooklyn, is an attractive eligible bachelor descended from Eastern European Jews. Though familiar with prejudice, Farkas is unable to fathom its existence within his own religious community. Through him, Uhry dramatizes a sharp division: The Freitag-Levys are assimilated German Jews with scarcely a remnant of Jewish culture; Farkas’ traditionally observant family has more recently emigrated from Russia or Eastern Europe. To the Freitag-Levys, Farkas is “too Jewish”; to him, they don’t seem Jewish at all.
Farkas’ presence and perspective prompts college student Sunny to examine intra-ethnic bias, her Jewish identity (or lack thereof) and the beliefs with which she’s been raised. The family is pulled apart and then mended together with plenty of comedy, romance and revelations along the way. Events take several unexpected turns as the characters face where they come from and are forced to deal with who they really are.
“Ballyhoo was real,” said Uhry, who was born into a Jewish family in Atlanta in 1936, the son of a social worker and a furniture designer and artist, in an interview about the play. “In the years between the wars and even up to the ’50s – I went to one of the last Ballyhoos there was, when I was 16 – it was like a German-Jewish debutante ball. The big dance for Ballyhoo was held at the Standard Club, which really existed as a club exclusively for German-Jewish society. And the Venetian Club pool [the site in the play of an incident in which Sunny experiences anti-Semitism, a story that actually happened to Uhry’s sister] is real. All the names are real.”
Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 6 to 8, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9. Tickets cost $10 for the general public and $8 for students and senior citizens. Telephone reservations may be made by calling 401-825-2219 at any time.
The production is directed by Professor Bert Silverberg. Set design is by Assistant Professor Luke Sutherland, with costume design by Professor Jeffrey A. Butterworth. Student designers are Branigan Duguay of Warwick (lights), Kaisey Caputo of Johnston (sound) and Krystal Terilli of West Warwick (makeup).
The student cast includes Erin Archer of Providence, Brittany Boudreau of Woonsocket, Anthony Caraman and Nicholas Simonin of North Providence, Lauren Germano of West Warwick, Emily Mae Partingon of Cumberland and Stephen Smith of Smithfield. Audrey Crawley of Woonsocket is the stage manager. Boudreau is also assistant director.
Uhry is one of few writers to receive an Academy Award, a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for dramatic writing. He graduated in 1958 from Brown University, where he wrote two original musicals with Brownbrokers. His early professional work for the stage was as a lyricist and librettist for a number of commercially unsuccessful musicals. His second collaboration with Robert Waldman, “The Robber Bridegroom,” found success on Broadway in both 1975 and 1976, enjoyed a yearlong national tour and garnered Uhry his first Tony nomination.
In 1987, at age 51, Uhry wrote his first play, “Driving Miss Daisy.” Produced Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, the play earned him the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Uhry wrote the screenplay for the 1989 film starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman and it was awarded the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
“The Last Night of Ballyhoo” was commissioned for the Cultural Olympiad in Atlanta that coincided with the 1996 Summer Olympics, and received the Tony Award for Best Play when produced on Broadway that same year. Uhry’s libretto for the 1998 musical “Parade,” about the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank, earned him a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.