Saturday, January 14, 2017

“Beau Jest” returns to Lamb’s Players Theatre for a fun filled evening.

When my three daughters were growing up they used to stand in front of the open refrigerator and ask me if there was anything good to eat. My reply always was, “Have some ‘nice fruit’. Nice is the operative word in James Sherman’s comedy “Beau Jest” about a nice Jewish girl whose parents want her to marry a nice Jewish boy.

That’s the simple version. The more complex version is played out on Lamb’s Players Stage in Kerry Meads broadly directed, sometimes over the top but fun filled comedy through Feb. 12th. Keeping in mind that nothing is as simple as it appears, particularly when it comes to who ‘the nice Jewish daughter marries and who the nice Jewish boyfriend’ is.

In 1994 Lamb’s Players introduced “ Beau Jest” to audiences in a San Diego Premiere. It opened off-Broadway in 1991and came up against some critical criticism but endured in spite of it and at any given time, Regional Theatres might have it listed as part of a season. Will it appeal to non -Jewish audiences? You be the judge.

Jason Heil and Erika Beth Phillips
Here’s how it stands. Jewish Sarah Goldman (Erika Beth Phillips) is in love with her non-Jewish beau Chris Kringle, yup, (Jason Heil) over her parents’ Miriam and Abe Goldman’s (Sandy Campbell and John Rosen) objections. In a ploy to keep them happy and divert attention from her non- Jewish boyfriend, she tells them that she has broken it off with Chris and has a new Jewish boyfriend.

As it happens, her ‘new Jewish boyfriend’ is a hire from an Escort Agency whose name is Bob Schroeder (sounds Jewish) but she introduces him as David Steinberg (Ross Hellwig), the doctor…brain and heart OY!  

Erika Beth Phillips, Ross Hellwig, Sandy Campbell and John Rosen
Enter Mom and Dad and therapist/judgmental brother Joel (Omri Schein) for a Shabbat, Dad’s birthday dinner and to meet the new beau. All hell breaks loose as Bob/David takes on a crash course in (for lack of another word) ‘Tradition’, as in on the job training.     

When not ‘escorting’ women to the opera or dinner or what have you, Bob is also an actor therefore much of his performance as ‘the Jewish boyfriend’. Knowing the blessing over the wine at a Shabbat dinner, is a flashback from roles in musicals he was in, such as “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Cabaret”.

Putting too much horseradish on his Matzo though at the Passover Seder, should have been a direct giveaway. “They’ll know. They can spot a Jew a mile away. It’s like radar.” He did take acting classes at Second City where he learned to improvise he reassures her. They (mom and dad) bought it hook, line and sinker. Omri’s Joel had different thoughts and his body language showed it well.  

Sandy Campbell, Ross Hellwig, Erika Beth phillips John Rosen Omri Schein (back to audience)
While neatly packaged and in a fast paced production Mead’s ensemble has found a good balance. John Rosen’s Abe reminded me of one my uncle’s when conducting the Passover Seder; one page of reading from the Haggadah and then close the book and ready for the meal. Nice try! Nice going also that John's impressive Hebrew and some Yiddish adds even more authenticity to the part.

The chemistry between Sandy Campbell’s, Miriam and Rosen’s Abe worked for me. Abe is committed to kvetching about parking in Sarah’s Chicago neighborhood and she refuses to have Sarah ‘warm the kugel’ in the oven as opposed to the microwave. It’s a long- running , sometimes tireing joke.

Ms. Campbell’s Jewish Mother steely appearance as the enduring wife and mother committed to being silently subservient on the one hand but emotionally in charge on the other is almost surreal as it showed up on opening night. She nailed it. 

Ms. Phillips is a bunch of nerves on steroids as she runs around like a chicken with her head cut off trying to please everyone and can’t seem to find a balance for herself. Making her parents happy is a full time job.

Erika Beth Phillips and Ross Hellwig
Steadying the situation Hellwig takes almost everything in stride as his David/Bob falls slowly in love with the family and their daughter.  Unfortunately Jason Heil has little to do but declare his love for Sarah and show his aggravation toward his replacement. All convince.

In a compelling second act turn about, after Abe finds out that David/Bob is not Jewish, his rant brings about chest pains, 911 emergency and a ‘come to Jesus’ (pardon the expression) moment for the entire group.

Jemima Dutra’a outfits depict the late 80’s and all look upper middle class. I especially loved the eye- glasses, but the sweaters worn by Omri's Joel...well. And the glasses? I did have a pair exactly like those. Mike Buckley’s set is functional and bright and Deborah Gilmour Smith’s mix of Klezmer, “Fiddler On The Roof” and Barbara Streisand music couldn’t help but put us in the mood.   

Omri Schein, Erika Beth phillips and Ross Hellwig
No question, “Beau Jest brings out some stereotypical mishegas (Craziness) about the Jewish experience. It’s fun, entertaining and will definitely take your mind off the mishegas going on in Washington.  

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 12th
Organization: Lamb’s players Theatre
Phone: 619.437.6000
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 1142 Orange Ave. Coronado, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $24.00

Photo: John Howard

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