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Theatre Explores Faith and Family

By Rachel Judy

February 16, 2011

Cast members Nathan Schmidt and Tabitha Ray

Cast members Nathan Schmidt and Tabitha Ray
Photo courtesy of Regent University Theatre

Set in 1939 Atlanta, The Last Night of Ballyhoo tells the story of an upwardly mobile German-Jewish family searching for a way to find acceptance within their southern community. Regent University's theatre puts its own spin on the semi-autobiographical play beginning on Nov. 19.

Written by Alfred Uhry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Driving Miss Daisy, the story takes place during the Christmas season. The Freitag family is struggling to blend in with their community until a transplanted Yankee from Brooklyn, Joe Farkas, arrives on the scene. The idea of rejecting religious beliefs in order to blend does not sit well with Joe, but he's enamored with one of the Freitag girls. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Play of 1997, The Last Night of Ballyhoo combines a pre-World War II romance with Uhry's exploration of a society on the verge of change.

Following the extended Freitag family in America's isolated days prior to World War II, Uhry's work attempts to showcase the last days of innocence for a generation. But, that innocence is overshadowed by the play's exploration of the intercultural bigotry that existed between German and Eastern European Jews.

Mark Paladini, theatre department artist-in-residence and the director of The Last Night of Ballyhoo, explains the term "ballyhoo" and how it relates to Uhry's story: "Ballyhoo was a three-day event created by German Jews in the South as an attempt to copy the cotillions held at restricted country clubs in the South," he said. "Alfred Uhry's father was involved in the organization of Ballyhoo according to programs found by students researching the play. Students also found pictures of Alfred Uhry with his Christmas tree as a child, which drove home the fact that many elements of the play evolved from Uhry's own experiences (and those of his parents) growing up in the South."

The story of a generation on the brink of war also hits home for Paladini. "Knowing what happened to the ancestors of my wife and children (and through marriage, my family), I can't help but be moved by the plight of Joe Farkas," he explained. "My goal is to share my warm feelings about this family with our audiences and to create a common bond of love for all those who attend this very special production."

In Regent's production, MFA in Acting students Tabitha Ray, Hannah Hughes Nathan Schmidt and Chad Gilliland present their thesis roles.

The Last Night of Ballyhoo runs Nov. 19-21 and Dec. 2-5.

Purchase tickets through the Regent University Box Office.

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