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Globe West Arts

Assimilating humor

Wellesley Summer players Margaret Dunn (left) and Ashley Gramolini rehearse a scene in “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.’’ Wellesley Summer players Margaret Dunn (left) and Ashley Gramolini rehearse a scene in “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.’’ (Wellesley Summer Theater Company)
By Nancy West
Globe Correspondent / January 6, 2011

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As someone who emigrated from Ireland to the United States at the age of 5, Nora Hussey has always considered herself attuned to issues of assimilation.

The head of Wellesley College’s theater program, and the founding artistic director of the Wellesley Summer Theatre Company, Hussey has explored these themes through a number of productions, but none has held quite as much resonance for her as “The Last Night of Ballyhoo’’ by Alfred Uhry, also the author of “Driving Miss Daisy.’’ The troupe’s production opens tonight at the college’s Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre.

The play is set in December 1939. Like other families throughout Atlanta, the Freibergs, who are Jewish immigrants, are caught up in the excitement of the world screen premiere of “Gone with the Wind,’’ and the more personal quandary of who will escort their daughter to Ballyhoo, a critical event on Atlanta’s Jewish social calendar. But they are also grimly aware of the acute dangers their relatives in Europe face with the onset of World War II.

“This play is very American and yet at the same time it’s very ethnic. The characters fascinate me, particularly in terms of how Uhry captured the intimacy of their development and assimilation,’’ Hussey said. “What interests me in directing it is figuring out where the conquests of assimilation happen. Why do you want to be assimilated? Why not hold on to your culture? These are the questions I wasn’t able to ask when I arrived here from Ireland as a 5-year-old. I just wanted to lose my accent so I wouldn’t be teased.’’

The Wellesley company generally takes on weightier works, Hussey said; this production is unusually humorous for its repertoire. “I believe we all need some comedy in the wintertime,’’ Hussey said. “This one really struck me, the story of a Jewish family celebrating Christmas in Atlanta as Hitler takes over in Europe.’’

The gravity underlying the humor didn’t really become clear to Hussey until her actors brought it to life, she said.

“When you read through this play, there are a lot of places to laugh. But once we were on stage, the dark underbelly really showed through for me. And it’s the actors who get all the credit for that. It’s a glorious cast. They’ve all worked together and with me before, and this project has been a joy.’’

The production runs Thursdays through Sundays for the rest of the month at the Jones Theatre, 106 Central St. For a complete schedule or to purchase tickets, call 781-283-2000 or e-mail wstboxoffice@gmail.com. Tickets are $20, or $10 for seniors and students.

MUSICAL CHOICES: Three local events Saturday evening offer a wide range of musical experiences.

Exsultemus and Newton Baroque kick off a yearlong presentation of Harmonischer Gottesdienst, Georg Philipp Telemann’s complete 72-cantata cycle written for the 1725-1726 liturgical season, on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Second Church in Newton, 60 Highland Street, West Newton. Tickets are $30 general admission; $5 discount for students and seniors. For more details, call 857-998-0219 or go to www.exsultemus.org.

Also starting at 8 p.m., Indian Hill Music offers a solo chamber music recital featuring Russian-American pianist Sergey Schepkin. The program includes works by Bach, Schubert, Brahms, and Liszt.

Schepkin has appeared in recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as the Celebrity Series of Boston, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Philharmonic Hall in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Sumida Triphony Hall in Tokyo, among many other venues and series. He is a faculty member of the New England Conservatory’s Division of Preparatory and Continuing Education, and an associate professor of piano at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The concert will take place at the Kalliroscope Gallery, 264 Main St. in Groton. Tickets are $25, or $15 for students, and include a wine and cheese reception. Call 978-486-9524 or go to www.indianhillmusic.org.

And at 7:30 p.m., Parisian chanteuse and songwriter Jessica Fichot performs at the Union Hall Coffeehouse in Carlisle with a program reflecting the multicultural influences on her music, which include the French chanson tradition, gypsy jazz, Chinese and Latin American folk music, and classic American folk.

Appetizers, desserts, and nonalcoholic beverages are available for purchase; audience members are also welcome to BYOB.

Tickets are $22.50. To purchase in advance, call 978-287-5745 or e-mail dian@unionhallcoffeehouse.com. For more details, go to www.unionhallcoffeehouse.com.

FOR CABIN FEVER: Beat the winter doldrums with a performance of “The Berenstain Bears in Family Matters,’’ a one-hour musical for children ages 4 and up Sunday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center, 333 Nahanton St. in Newton.

Tickets are $11, and are available at www.jccgb.org or by calling 617-965-5226.

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