Ithaca College Theatre is embracing the holiday season with performances of the Alfred Uhry holiday comedy “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.” Though it already deals with serious issues, this production bears extra weight as it marks the final production directed by Arno Selco, a professor in the Department of Theatre Arts, who is retiring this academic year.
Set in 1939 Atlanta, “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” focuses on the Freitags, a nonpracticing Jewish family trying to celebrate the holidays by putting up a Christmas tree. Boo (junior Meredith Beck) is preoccupied with getting her daughter Lala (senior Lauren Wightman), a date for Ballyhoo, the social event of the year. Lala’s cousin Sunny (sophomore Abbe Tanenbaum) is also present, having just returned from Wellesley for the holidays.
Uncle Adolph (senior Dan Greenwood) invites Joe (sophomore Michael Haller), a handsome Jewish man from Brooklyn, to the family’s home for dinner. Joe is an observant Jew, which creates an interesting contrast to the Freitags’ more laid-back attitude toward their faith.
Haller said his character’s main purpose is to serve as a mirror, allowing the Freitags to evaluate their own lives more critically.
“As much as he’s emotionally invested in the rest of the family, it’s important for him that they learn to accept who they are,” Haller said. “He wants to bring honesty to the household. He’s immediately taken aback by what kind of environment these particular nonpracticing Jews create.”
Tanenbaum plays the intelligent but hypocritical Sunny, Joe’s love interest. Sunny tries to help her relatives recognize they have prejudices, even if they refuse to acknowledge them. Ironically, Sunny doesn’t realize how hypocritical she is behaving herself. Tanenbaum said she hopes the audience views her character as someone who makes mistakes but is still trying her best.
To get a better understanding of the play, Selco called its author, Alfred Uhry, to discuss the characters. Uhry said he wanted to attend a performance, but is unable to because he is in London working on “Parade.”
This is not the first time Selco has done intense research for a production. Having practiced and studied theater for 50 years, Selco is admired by students and staff for the extra dedication he brings to his work.
“The littlest things I would never think about, Arno has thought through, and it’s really interesting,” Haller said.
Selco wasn’t the only one who researched for the play. Costume designer senior Katie Delaney spent time examining relationships between the characters and said she noticed a particularly strong dynamic between the women in the play and wanted to show this through the costumes that she picked for the actresses.
“My costume choices came from research I did, trying to figure out what the audience can relate to,” Delaney said. “The mother-daughter dynamic is especially unique, and we wanted to show that through the costumes too.”
Selco said he does not think students will have a hard time relating to the play.
“The Freitags are a typical family,” he said. “They are Jewish, but all families deal with the same problems such as the degree with which you identify with your heritage. The difference in opinions leads to a lot of friction within a family.”
He said his main goal as a director is to look for the truth within each script. He tries to help his students understand the truth and communicate it to the audience, and the theme presented in “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” is no exception.
“We happen to be living during precarious times,” Selco said. “Even people who are very much like each other can’t seem to find something to agree about. … If we can’t get along with people who are like us, how are we going to get along with people who aren’t like us?”
Performances will be held at 8 p.m. today through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Clark Theatre in Dillingham Center. Tickets range from $5.50 to $10 and may be purchased by calling (607) 274–3224.