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Lala, meanwhile, is prodded by her mother Boo (Donnah Welby), to encourage the attentions of Peachy Weil, a boisterous representative of a prestigious Louisiana family. "I can do better than Peachy Weil," Lala scoffs.
"No you can't," answers her mother, who refers to Lala's dateless state as "your situation."
In this ensemble drama with an exceptionally strong cast, Welby's depiction of Boo stands out. Her forceful performance doesn't upstage her colleagues, but she is nonetheless missed when she's not onstage. Her character is a kind of demonic Jane Wyatt, a hybrid of too-cheerful sitcom mother and Southern belle hovering over every round of her daughter's dating contest as though it were a championship bout. Lala feels that God may have favored the blond Sunny. But Lala is wrong. God smiled on her when He gave her a mom like Boo.
Almost every other aspect of this production's casting and design seems to have been divinely inspired as well. Jack Allison's direction is too understated to call attention to itself, yet it is replete with intelligent touches. Rob Odorisio's set (the play unfolds almost entirely in the Freitags' living room) is exquisitely outfitted to suggest the physical comfort with which the family lives outside the house as well as in it. Ellis Tillman's costumes show a spirited interpretation of period detail, while Stuart Duke's lighting design underscores the show's most haunting moments.
Particularly well cast is Philip LeStrange as Adolph, the unmarried uncle of Sunny and Lala. Though Adolph is a beleaguered male in a household of idiosyncratic women, LeStrange makes this predicament seem like a multilayered blessing. He also gets some of the best lines. Here's his explanation for sister-in-law Boo's rudeness just after she's returned from a screening of Gone With the Wind: "Forgive her," he says to Joe. "She's been looking at Clark Gable for four hours, and she has to come home and look at me." Less easy to navigate is the role of Reba Freitag, played by Pat Nesbit. As written she seems to have been inserted into the play as the voice of daffiness. Nesbit, however, infuses Reba with humanity.
Romantic leads Nick Cokas and Angela Pierce don't need to do much more than look good together as Joe and Sunny. Happily, though, both give performances that are full of substance. More challenging are the roles of Peachy and Lala. One cynical joke underlying the play is that Peachy, whose family brags that they've been in the United States for 150 years, is hopelessly vulgar, while newcomer Joe is cultured and genteel. Hunter Bell plays Peachy as an obnoxious buffoon, but one who has just enough charisma to match Lala's affable gawkiness misstep for misstep. Together Peachy and Lala create an unlikely but amiable chemistry that buoys the play. Their energy makes the rest of us root for the success of everyone at the Ballyhoo.
Can a comedy about assimilation actually take place three months after Hitler's invasion of Poland? Leave it to Alfred Uhry.
The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Written by Alfred Uhry; directed by Jack Allison; with Hunter Bell, Nick Cokas, Philip LeStrange, Jonah Marsh, Pat Nesbit, Angela Pierce, and Donnah Welby. Through December 27. Coconut Grove Playhouse, 3500 Main Hwy, Miami; 305-442-2662.