By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
A traditional, lavishly staged A Christmas Carol is playing to sold-out houses at Dallas Theater Center, where for the third year in a row they're performing the lovely adaptation by Richard Hellesen, directed by Joel Ferrell. That one has the perfect Ebenezer in actor Robert Langdon Lloyd, who makes the character as fearsome and funny as Dickens intended. Really, if you're going to get Scrooged, why settle for cheap imitations?
Other repeaters on the end-of-year calendar include Alan Ayckbourn's mildly sexy farce Season's Greetings, onstage at both Stage West in Fort Worth and here at Theatre Too. WaterTower Theatre in Addison is reprising Rockin' Christmas Party (its third revival of the musical revue) and David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries (seven years running). And at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, if it's Christmas season, it's also Hanukkah time, which means they're doing Alfred Uhry's The Last Night of Ballyhoo again.
It's the third go-round for this play at CTD, and there's only one new cast member this year, Cameron McElyea in the role of Joe Farkas, a handsome Jewish man from Brooklyn acclimating to life among less observant Jews in 1939 Atlanta. He's one of the "other kind" (those whose relatives came from Eastern Europe), regarded in the South as less desirable marriage material than Jews with forebears from Germany. Joe falls for Wellesley student Sunny Freitag (Jennifer Pasion), daughter of a well-off Atlanta family so un-kosher they put up a Christmas tree and aren't sure when Passover is. The match doesn't sit well with crabby Aunt Boo (Sue Loncar) or her girl Lala (Ginger Goldman). Boo is so desperate for the flighty Lala to land a rich Jewish boy, she forces her into the arms of the obnoxious Peachy Weil (Wesley Bourland). At Ballyhoo, an annual country club cotillion restricted to the Jewish kids of the "right kind," Joe is forced to face Atlanta's intra-ethnic prejudice.
Uhry's first play, Driving Miss Daisy, is a delicate little comic masterpiece addressing similar themes. Ballyhoo, written as a commission for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, feels a little forced, but it's a pleasant enough living room drama, like Tennessee Williams lite.
At CTD, director Cheryl Denson hasn't reined in all of the broad acting—Loncar's a mite too squawky as Boo, and Cindee Mayfield, as her sister-in-law Reba, is too dippy by half—but the play's shallow storytelling is camouflaged by the subtler performances of McElyea and Pasion, whose scenes together are quiet little studies in old-fashioned flirtation. Goldman and Bourland get laughs goading each other as the goofy Lala and Peachy, who make the "right kind" look like supercilious dimwits next to socially conscious Joe and Sunny.
The play ends too abruptly—Sunny and Joe get engaged and suddenly the Freitag household starts praying in Hebrew—but it says what it needs to and then takes its bows.