The characters of "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" aren't comfortable in their own skins. Boo Levy wonders why, with her math skills, she doesn't help run the family business. Her awkward daughter, Lala, tries to forget she washed out of college by dreaming of writing a novel.
The whole Freitag family — a Southern, Jewish family in 1939 Atlanta — has little regard for their Jewish identity. In fact, they have a Christmas tree in the front room and playwright Alfred Uhry slips in the detail that Boo once organized an
Of course sometimes their Jewish heritage bubbles to the surface — comically, as when Boo lays down a rule about that tree: "Jewish Christmas trees don't have stars," she dictates. And sometimes seriously, when there's talk about the right kind of Jews and the "other kind." Or when Boo shockingly lets loose an anti-Semitic epithet.
The Freitags' comfortable upper-class existence of Southern secularism is disrupted when smooth-talking Joe, an observant Jew from Brooklyn, joins the family firm and takes a shine to college gal Sunny Freitag (Allison Walter, who nicely transforms from serene to shaken).
You see Joe (Kevin Alonso, charming and sincere) is one of the "other kind" of Jews — his family is more recently arrived in the U.S.; his family tree comes from Eastern, not Western, Europe; and he's more outwardly religious.
Meanwhile, the women of the Freitag household are in a dither about the social event of the season, the Ballyhoo. It's a series of events, culminating in a dance on the last night at which any young Jew who's anyone must make an appearance with a suitable date.
In Theatre UCF's production, director Tad Ingram has his young cast emphasize the
Kristin Shoffner, as Boo, especially has a way with a tart retort and a belligerent glare.
But the downside to all the light comedy — which nearly all lands — is that the meatier issues are pushed to the wayside, giving the show a sitcom sheen without any sort of meaningful underpinning.
The way Boo has treated the family cook, perceived to be African-American, barely registers. And any sense of foreboding over the war news from Europe — Hitler has invaded Poland — is absent, so the contrast between the legitimate worry of the day and the silly brouhaha over the Ballyhoo is lost.
What's left is a funny evening, but not a full-bodied "Ballyhoo."
'The Last Night of Ballyhoo'
•What: A Theatre UCF production of the Alfred Uhry play
•Where: UCF Mainstage Theater, off University Boulevard and Alafaya Trail at the University of Central Florida
•When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 29
•Tickets: $17; $15 seniors; $10 students