By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Long before the sentimental final scene of Ballyhoo, with all the characters sharing a traditional Shabbat meal by candlelight, we can see the tableau coming. And at this group's Sabbath table, the matzoh, like Uhry's Southern-fried dialogue, is apt to be drizzled with sticky molasses.
Between Buford and Ballyhoo, the latter offers the more polished and traditional evening of theater. This is Contemporary Theatre's first show in its home base, a renovated two-story church with wooden floors and stained glass windows. The lovely set elements--sprawling, well-appointed living and dining rooms, a balcony for the lovers to retreat to--are so solidly integrated, you'd think this company had been performing there for years.
Director Jamie Baker Knapp also has assembled a strong cast, including two of Dallas' best character actors, Mayfield and Wold, and three promising young newcomers, Krapff, Van Winkle and Gilbert (Jabbour trips on his accent, which sounds more Irish than Brooklynese). Mayfield gives an especially nuanced performance as the widowed Reba, whose every utterance is an apology for some imagined slight. She's the heart of the family, though her kin probably don't realize that her talent for crocheting is superseded only by her gift for keeping the family from unraveling.
The Last Night of Ballyhoo continues at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas through March 15. Call 214-828-0094
With this good ensemble, it's too bad Uhry's play is so unrelentingly banal. A pushy widow in the Deep South, a self-conscious daughter who quits school rather than face ridicule, a handsome gentleman caller who might be marriage material--characters like these make for a great drama seething with subtext about Southern mores and intolerance toward "otherness." But that play is Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Alfred Uhry takes the same characters and soaks them in formulaic mush. Where Williams wrote poetry, Uhry types easy-to-forget chitter-chatter. Williams gave us Greek tragedy set in the 20th century. Uhry offers up Archie Bunker meets The Golden Girls, with a premise as wobbly and transparent as one of Laura Wingfield's little glass unicorns.
Contemporary Theatre's actors grant their roles more weight, dignity and grace than Uhry's silly, cliche-filled script probably deserves. It's a symptom of where the Dallas theater scene is right now. Stages are brimming with excellent performances in fair-to-middlin' plays like Ballyhoo and Buford Gomez. Only Theatre Three's stunning Copenhagen (directed by Rene Moreno, who also directed Buford, what a comedown) offers audiences extraordinary writing equally matched by skillful acting. Intolerable.