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THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO

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's Christmas 1939 in Atlanta, and the biggest news besides Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovakia is the premiere of Gone With the Wind. But most wealthy Jewish girls and their mothers are far more excited about the beginning of the social season, the Ballyhoo dance at the exclusive Standard Club, a bastion of prominent Reform Jews, where the girls' escorts are a testament to their social standing and future prospects. In the Freitag home on upscale Habersham Road, Lala (Blair Sams) and her mother, Boo (Kandis Chappell), are in a nervous frenzy because Lala has not yet secured a date, and her prior social success has been shaky at best. Boo fears that a good match will soon be out of reach. There is, however, one strong contender: Peachy Weil (Guilford Adams), the carrot-topped son of a well-connected Louisiana family. Also in the household is Boo's widowed sister-in-law, Reba (Linda Gehringer), a placid scatterwit, whose pleasures are in her Wellesley College daughter, Sunny (Debra Funkhouser), and caring for her brother-in-law, Adolph (Richard Doyle), the keeper of the business that provides them with their security. Playwright Alfred Uhry interjects into this microcosm a young protégé of Adolph's from New York, Joe Farkas (Nathan Baesel), whose sensibilities are disturbed when he finds the clan with a Christmas tree and no knowledge of their cultural heritage. Though Lala tries to give him a rush, he is attracted to well-bred, intelligent Sunny, who is intrigued by his being a Jew of "the other kind," with a Polish and Russian family. The ensemble is terrific. Chappell's portrayal of Boo is elegantly delivered with just the right combination of bitterness, frustration, and pathos. Sams, too, turns in a bravura performance as she ranges from breezy optimism to jealous insecurity, sticking out her chin as she conforms to society's strictures and her domineering mother's bullying. The durable Doyle's depiction of Adolph projects depths of character in a part that could easily be overlooked. Funkhouse and Baesel are charming in their youth, and Gehringer delivers a pluperfect bland and genial Reba. Adams is a colorful standout as the brash and superficial Peachy. Despite a rather pat ending, director Warner Shook blends the play's considerable humor with moments of clarity as he tackles Uhry's themes of assimilationism and moral complacency. The schism between the daily lives of these people with their waning days of innocence and the looming war is deftly handled by the company. "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," presented by and at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2:30 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Sep. 5-Oct. 5. $27-55. (714) 708-555

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