Rom/Com, Sit/Com, Whateveryoucallit/Com. James Sherman’s Beau Jest is a lightweight trifle that would border on the offensive were it not for smooth ensemble work by an expert cast.
Sarah (Erika Beth Phillips) is a single kindergarten teacher with her own apartment. She has a brother named Joel (Omri Schein) who is a divorced therapist with a couple of kids he shares with his ex-wife. Their parents are Miriam (Sandy Campbell) and Abe (John Rosen). Abe owns several dry-cleaning establishments. Miriam lives to guilt trip her children and to figure out how to marry off Sarah.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the family is Jewish and it’s the 1980s.
Sarah is actually dating Chris (Jason Heil), who is blonde, an advertising executive, and not even close to being Jewish. Sarah is certain that Miriam and Abe will have a conniption fit (not Yiddish – I checked) if they find out she is dating Chris, but she needs to get Miriam off her back. So, she calls an escort service (remember, this is back in the days when you could hire a nice, refined, gentleman to accompany you to places like the opera, where a single woman might not feel comfortable). The service sends over Bob (Ross Hellwig).
Turns out Bob isn’t Jewish, either, but he has dark hair and his last name can pass for Jewish. He’s also an actor who does escort work on the side. Sarah, panicked because her parents and brother will be over soon for a Seder dinner, decides to change Bob’s name to David and hope that Bob’s acting ability will carry them through the evening (turns out Bob knows “Fiddler on the Roof” fairly well).
I probably don’t have to tell you any more of the story. You can guess the rest of it from the set-up.
With a stereotypical Jewish family at the center of the action, things could become offensive quickly. Luckily, director Kerry Meads’ cast is wonderful at going just up to the line and not over it. In particular, Sandy Campbell turns the guilt screws with skill and manages to make Miriam loving as well as wicked. Mr. Schein knows how to portray a master snoop (which IS Yiddish – I checked on it as well). Mr. Rosen’s long-suffering husband and father has just enough suffering and never for long, actually.
There’s good chemistry between Ms. Phillips and Mr. Hellwig, less so between Ms. Phillips and Mr. Heil (who really is stuck with a no-win role). But, all works out in the end.
The technical work is solid, as is always the case at Lamb’s. Mike Buckley’s set looks a lot like the ones for several domestic dramas and comedies that have been stage in the space, Nathan Peirson’s lighting design does the job well. I could have used fewer “Fiddler” references in Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s sound design, but she did work in a joke using Barbra Streisand singing Sondheim (“Everyone Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle), so all is forgiven. Jemima Dutra’s costumes are hilariously perfect, particularly Mr. Schein’s sweaters, Mr. Rosen’s ties, and the number with the bead work that Ms. Phillips wears in Act 2.
None of this is high art, or even close. But, it’s a pleasant winter’s diversion, sending happy, sunshine-filled audiences out into the pouring rain.
Performs through February 12, 2017, evenings Tuesdays through Saturdays with matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Theatre parking is available without charge on nearby streets in the evenings; for Wednesday and Saturday matinees, there are pay parking lots nearby. This review was based on the opening night performance, January 13, 2017.