Shalom, Buckhead! — Boiler Room , Play review , Town Centre Theatre — AAPEX

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Shalom, Buckhead!

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The magic of theatre is that it takes us places we couldn't get to any other way, and this month it just so happens that two Williamson County theatre companies offer Nashville theatre goers the unique opportunity to experience my hometown of Atlanta through the eyes of DRIVING MISS DAISY author Alfred Uhry with the Towne Centre production of THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO, which opened this weekend, and the Boiler Room production of PARADE which opens next Friday, October 5. 

Both plays strike strong personal chords - PARADE because it is in part about my own family and BALLYHOO because the home in which it is set would be - at least theoretically - maybe a ten minute walk from my grandmother's house at 99 Peachtree Battle Avenue - and I have to admit to being overwhelmed with both nostalgia and homesickness as I immersed myself in Towne Center's absolutely charming production of LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO. 

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Towne Centre, which is located in Brentwood, has got to be the Nashville theatre scene's best kept secret and I can't quite figure out why. It's a wonderful space - maybe the sweetest little theatre in towne - and for Melissa Williams' right on production of BALLYHOO, the audience practically walks right in to what could easily serve as a museum exhibit for a Buckhead parlor. Just checking out the furniture on Pete Hiett's marvelous set is worth a road trip down Franklin Pike, but what these actors deliver on that set would make it worth while if you had to drive to Kentucky. W. Preston Crook is flat out brilliant in his understated performance as Adolf Freitag, the prototypical Buckhead patriarch drowning in a sea of females, and. as his sister Boo (Beulah), Jan Parrish Hendon is fierce in the role of an Atlanta widow with all the attitude and social radar of an Atlanta junior leaguer - if only she wasn't, you know, Jewish. 

But just how "Jewish" are these people? The litmus test shows up at the door in the character of one Joe Farkas - a fine turn by Jon Castro - a nice Brooklyn boy who attends not one but two Seder dinners every year. Joe falls in love with Adolf's niece, Sunny (can't say enough about Lindsay Carter in this role) and just to put the issues in perspective, Sunny doesn't know what the Seder is. Welcome to Atlanta. 

Meanwhile, Sunny's cousin, Lala, is having delusions of Scarlett O'Hara (the play is set on the eve of the premiere of GONE WITH THE WIND) while decorating the Christmas tree - whose ornaments include several stars of David. Lala is undoubtedly the most enigmatic character in this story and the gazelle like Jami Winfrey is just cutting her teeth on the role, so I'm going back in four weeks to see where she goes with it.

Vicki Songer's delightful Reba is a titillating fusion of Aunt PityPat, Fannie Brice and Birdie from LITTLE FOXES and there is much about Uhry's mythical Southern world that echos back to that other wonderful Southern Jewish playwright, Lillian Hellman

Rounding out the ensemble is a pip of a young actor named Taylor Sokoll as "Peachy" Weil - another nice Jewish boy, but this time from Louisiana and one of "the best Southern Families" - well, if you're Jewish, that is. 

And they all look spectacular in Natalie Stone's superb period costumes - especially Lala's hysterical ball gown which is bound to provoke memories of Carol Burnet's killer line - " I just saw it in the window and had to have it." (For those of you who remember.) 

As an immediate male relative of any number of former presidents of the Atlanta Junior League, LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO and the world of Jewish debutantes is about the funniest satire I have ever seen on the world that I grew up in. Some of Boo's special brand of "Buckhead sarcasm" made me feel like I was in some kind of family therapy group session, but for anyone who is NOT from Atlanta, just know in advance that Atlanta and her particular brand of Southern culture are among the weirder contributions to civilization and no one captures that better than Uhry and his masterful depiction of the conflicted gestalt of Southern Jewish society. 

That conflict has roots which, in stark contrast to BALLYHOO, will hit the stage in The Boiler Room's almost Brechtian production of director Sondra Morton's take on PARADE, Urhy's collaboration with composer Jason Robert Brown about the trial and lynching of Leo Frank, in which you can see my grandfather sing, dance and prosecute Leo Frank. Opens October 5th.

What's Atlanta all about? Find out. Come to Nashville and go to the Theatre.,

Jaz Dorsey 
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

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