Thursday, November 19, 2015

Notes from Annie's Garden: THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO

By Annie Keefe
Associate Artist

The Last Night of Ballyhoo (1999)
With Carolyn Michel, Bradford Wallace,Stacy Barnhisel. 
Photo by Pam Nelligan
BALLYHOO?  What’s a ballyhoo?

There are a lot of reasons why THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO jumped out at me when I was looking for Script in Hand titles, not the least of which was the importance of its playwright.  Alfred Urhy wrote the often produced DRIVING MISS DAISYTHE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO is the play that followed his success with DAISY, and further explores some of his southern Jewish roots. It centers around the most important cultural event of the year: The southern Jewish cotillion called Ballyhoo.  It won the Tony for Best Play in 1996.

I had a vague memory of seeing it at the Playhouse in 1999.  What I remembered most was sitting in the theater in July or August and seeing a Christmas tree onstage.  As a former Properties Mistress – the person responsible for collecting all the things on the set, from candlesticks and ashtrays,  to – say Christmas trees – my first thought was “Wow, must have been hard to find all that Christmas stuff in the summer.”  I connected that Christmas tree with the title, and since I was looking for something for a December slot, it seemed like something worth rereading.  Then on the first page, when I remembered that the family in the play decorating said tree was Jewish, I kept reading, only to rediscover this deliciously funny and touching story.

Next I remembered that the play starts on the night that GONE WITH THE WIND premiered in Atlanta, Georgia.  Joanne Woodward tells a very funny story about being taken to the film’s premiere and seeing the stars in their limos when she was a child in Atlanta.  I feel like she might have tried to jump into a car with the stars – but let me get back to you on that detail!

The story of this southern Jewish community and their conflicting desires to ‘fit in’ is as touching as it is humorous.  As I kept reading it just seemed to be a really good holiday story for the Script in Hand audience.  I realized I really liked and empathized with all these people and began to think of our wonderful stable of actors and just who might be perfect at bringing them to life. 

So - as the holidays approach with all the frenzy of shopping and eating and travelling and gift giving, I hope you will consider giving yourself the gift of an evening in the theater with the folks in THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO.  Consider sharing that gift with a friend or family member and double the fun.  The shopping, mailing, travelling and celebrating will all be there the day after December 14th!  You might walk away with a little more holiday spirit!

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