Chevy Chase Players The Last Night of BallyhooBy Courtney Ferguson • May 5th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Chevy Chase Players
Chevy Chase Community Center, Washington, DC
$15/$13 Students and Seniors
Playing through May 16th
Reviewed May 1st, 2009
September 1939 Hitler invades Poland; December of the same year, Gone with the Wind premiers in Atlanta, Georgia. To a southern gal named Lala, the latter is more important. The Last Night of Ballyhoo is a story about the struggle of religious identity, and the cultural assimilation of Jews in America. The main characters are the Levy’s and the Freitag’s who live in an upper class Southern neighborhood, and are considered to be the more “sophisticated” German Jews. The family cannot seem to separate their religion from their southern upbringing. They half heartedly practice the traditions of their religion, but seem more concerned with fitting in with society. The arrival of Joe Farkas, a new employee of the family business brings conflict and resentment within the family. Joe is from New York and is considered to be a part of the lower class Eastern European Jews. Joe is more disciplined with the traditions of his religion and questions the faith of those in Freitag household. And so begins the struggle between the “right kind” and the “wrong kind.” Joe cannot fathom the prejudice he experiences amongst his own people, and strives to understand the standards of Southern society.
While Jews were being marginalized as a whole in Europe, the struggle facing Jews in the United States encompassed an internal class struggle between the lower class uneducated Eastern European Jews and the “sophisticated” German Jews. The differences between Jews in the South versus Jews in the North were defined as the “right kind” versus the “wrong kind.” This play was a historical commentary on class struggle and class privilege, that sought to educated its audience about the characteristics of internalized oppression.
This production was a first for many. For director Lennie Magida, it was her first time directing a full length play. Despite her anxiety about accepting the responsibility of directing this piece, she has done a wonderful job all around. This was also a first for Kristina Caggiano who played Sunny Freitag. She gave an exceptional performance considering she has had no acting experience up until this point. Caggiano’s performance did not indicate any signs of amateurism; on the contrary, she gave a very sharp and skillful performance.
Anthony Hacsi who played Adolph Freitag was the comedic relief and gave a hilariously funny performance as the carefree wise cracking uncle. His comedic timing and delivery were perfect, and there never reached a point where it felt like it was too much.
Joe Farkas, played by Michael Linden, was the ”Eastern European Jew” from New York. Linden did a great job portraying the inner torment of Joe, who was already accustomed to discrimination from non-Jews, but unaccustomed to the prejudice he experienced among his own people. Other standout performances came from Kate Blackburn who played Reba Freitag, and Kathryn Winkler who played Lala Levy.
I found Michael Rugnetta‘s performance to be a little overbearing. Rugnetta played Peachy Weil. His performance resorted to more of a southern caricature — full of excessive physical humor and a stereotypical dialect. This ended up being very distracting and out of place. The purpose of his character was clear, but could have been played without the over dramatization.
A personal favorite was the character Boo Levy, played by Shelley Rochester. Forget dialogue, Shelley had amazing facial expressions and body language that spoke for itself. Mrs. Levy was the definition of a Southern woman striving to maintain Southern sophistication at any cost. Rochester’s performance was humorous and at times scary considering the reality of characters like her. Boo is overcome with prejudice and desperation for an upper class image. Her thoughts and actions reflect a whole group of people who considered themselves to be better than their Jewish counterparts. This reflects the mindset developed by many Jews in the South. Boo refers to Joe as a Yankee, and insults his religion all in the same breath.
Lighting designer Jim Robertson did a great job with establishing the intimate feel of the Freitag household. His design consisted of individual lighting of lamps, and different rooms of the house, making the set seem like a real home.
Overall the play was exceptional, and very impressive. There was a great deal of effort on the actor’s part that went in to character development, and it did not go unnoticed. There is a powerful message within the play — in a story that many may not be familiar with.
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Courtney Ferguson is currently a student in the theatre arts program at Howard University pursuing a B.F.A in acting. Her plans are to go on to grad school to study Voice and Speech. Her credits include work on and off the stage, and she can be seen in the upcoming production of The Laramie Project with the Providence Players.