Mazel Tov!

After winning every award in sight for Driving Miss Daisy, a substantial and moving drama about Southern Jews, what was playwright Alfred Uhry to do next? How about writing The Last Night of Ballyhoo, another substantial and moving drama about Southern Jews?

Winner of the 1997 Tony Award for best play, Ballyhoo is a tremendous work, elegantly written and full of fascinating characters. In staging its Orange County premiere, the Huntington Beach Playhouse has scored a major coup, ably serving the material with an excellent production.

Uhry's play explores the perplexing irony that some of the worst anti-Semites are Jewish. Set in Atlanta in 1939, the play begins on the night Gone With the Wind debuts. The matriarch of a wealthy Jewish household, Boo Levy, is distressed by the aimlessness of her starstruck daughter, Lala. Boo gets even more upset when Lala finally shows some interest in a nice Jewish guy-because the guy is a little too Jewish for Mother Levy's heavily assimilated tastes. The frivolity of the movie premiere and, later, the Ballyhoo (a sort of Jewish prom) provide stark contrasts to such grim realities as class prejudice and the depravity of Hitler's Germany, emerging half a world away.

Lee Anne Moore, the backbone of a fine cast, is perfect in the role of Boo Levy, a deeply prejudiced battle-ax. Her vivid portrayal, which includes a terrific Southern accent, is electrifying. Amanda Loomer is also strong as Sunny Freitag, a more sensible young lady than Lala who traces a wide range of emotions with commitment and sensitivity. As Adolph Freitag, the long-suffering head of the household, Michael Flaherty shows a gift for comedy and subtle characterization. Terrific period costumes, including a dress inspired by Scarlett O'Hara's wardrobe, and an elaborate set also liven up this production.

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Combine those elements with the writing, which artfully weaves together romance, comedy and social criticism and ends on a note of exquisite grace, lightly handled by the playwright and this production, and you can't blame this reviewer for having to dab with the hankies by curtain time. So, hooray for Ballyhoo! Or better yet, mazel tov!

The Last Night of Ballyhoo at the Huntington Beach Playhouse, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 375-0696; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through Oct. 8. $10-$13.

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