Cultural and social issues plague the characters in Robert Uhry’s play “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” as a Jewish family struggles with their place in southern society amidst a mostly Anglo-Saxon neighborhood, and family dysfunctions runs rampant in their household.
“The Last Night of Ballyhoo” opened Saturday night, April 18 at midtown Kansas City, Missouri’s Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre where a fabulously crafted set with beautiful set decoration greeted the audience. Set designer, executive artistic director, and show director, Karen Paisley out did herself with the crafting and creation of this production. The set is one of the more elaborate creations of the past two years and the audience feels like they are sitting within the living room with the actors as the play unfolds.
Great as the set is, it only enhances the plethora of talented actors Paisley assembled for this production. Each and every actor brings the necessary tools and polish to each character to fully develop them and meld them into a finely-tuned ensemble. Not one detail is missed by any of the talent on stage. Not a line is out of place, mis-delivered, nor gesture wasted. The show is sharp, crisp, moves, flows. And brings a beautiful blend of comedy and poignant drama.
Within the show, you learn the strengths, weaknesses, prejudices, hopes, dreams, and unfilled pasts of each of the characters. Each brings a back story that helps navigate the murky waters of a family who has survived past disappointments. “Last Night of Ballyhoo” concerns an extended family with an uncle, his brothers’ widows his two nieces. Each of the women want their daughters to find their life partner and move forward. Each of the young ingenues comes with her own hangups and problems. The delightful mix of characters makes for some funny moments and light drama as the show develops.
It’s 1939 and Gone with the Wind is premiering just a couple of miles from the home. Lala, the youngest of the girls is star-struck and caught up in the excitement of the gala while her mother and uncle could care less. As the story unfolds, Lala’s failures continue to show, and with them, the sense of family love and support that accepts her delusions.
Anchored by Scott Cox, as Uncle Adolf, the show depends on his dominance as the central male figure in the story. He is the bridge between the two adult females in the house and their daughters. As the patriarch, Cox is charming, funny, witty, unconcerned with the daily happenings as he focuses on the family business and the impending trouble in Europe. Cox brings a simple charm to a character that could go overlooked in the hands of a less accomplished actor. He brings a strong character development and delivery.
Licia Watson, as Boo, the doting mother with more excuses than reasons, pushed Lala gently to find happiness, some success, and a date for the big dance that ends Ballyhoo. She indulges in Lala’s whims and fancies sometimes with reluctance, but not so when it comes to getting a date and moving forward with life. Watson is delightful as the mother hen prodding her daughter onward. She brings light comedy to the family situation. One scene where she spells out her disappointment with Lala’s lack of success brings the focus to the story and establishes her need for Lala’s forward movement. Watson is wonderful with her layered character.
Stand up and cheer for Brie Henderson who nails the character of Lala. Last seen in a smaller part at the MET in “Lost in Yonkers,” Henderson give a bravura performance of the girl who just can not seem to get or do the right thing. She’s like a willow tree swaying in the wind….first one direction, then another. One week she wants to write a novel; the next, a play. Whatever, she never proceeds or finishes anything. Her current preoccupation is the Gone with the Wind hullabaloo. This hides her fear that she will not find a date for Ballyhoo. Henderson navigates the hidden trepidation of failure with a veneer of Hollywood hype. Henderson has never been better and can quickly steal any scene.
As for male interests, Kyle Dyck as Joe and Mike Ott as Peachy serve as the golden boys of the play. Dyck, with a near flawless Brooklyn accent absolutely dominates scenes when he displays his hurt and humiliation at being the “wrong” kind of Jew. Dyck makes the most of his character by giving him charm, humor, pain, and sorrow. His character can not change who he is or from where he originated and confronts prejudice within his own religion as he faces Sunny’s family.
Always count on Mike Ott to create and deliver memorable characters. His training at Theater for Young America allowed him to lean on his creativity for characters that entertain and hold the audience’s attention. So, too, the character in “Last Night of Ballyhoo” stands out. In this case he brings a funny, but overly obnoxious man into the blend. He’s out of sorts and a perfect fit for Lala. And, even though he only appears in the last third of the show, he nails his character in each scene.
Grey Erin Renee plays Sunny, the cousin of Lala who always succeeds at each accomplishment and maintains a drive for success. She attends a good college. She has a sense of style. She’s accomplished, but young. She attracts boys and worries not about all the hubbub of Ballyhoo, yet she snares a date within her first encounters with Dyck’s character. Her character is solid and the performance is a stark contrast to Lala.
A smaller part goes to Danelle Drury as Reba’s mother and the widow of Uncle Adolf’s brother. She gives a strong supporting character to the mother who wants the best for her daughter and gives a balance to the pushy nature of Watson’s Boo. Drury gives balance to the two mature females in the cast. Even though her character has a smaller part, she is essential to add flavor to the story line.
All in all, “Last Night of Ballyhoo” deserves standing ovations and packed SRO houses. The show deserves the highest recommendations. Casting and directing are flawless. The show is tight and entertaining from start to finish. Like all family-oriented shows, the comedy and drama come within the characters and their interaction. Paisley and the cast highlight this and find the subtleties of the drama while keeping the overall tone light.
“The Last Night of Ballyhoo” comes from the pen of playwright, Alfred Uhry, who also wrote “Driving Miss Daisy.” Again, he shows the inner kindness of families after their outer veneer is brushed aside. “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” shows a more humorous family structure filled with warmth and tenderness.
Tickets for “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” can be purchased by phone at 816.569.3226 or at the MET’s website. The show continues through May 3 and should not be missed.