‘Beau Jest’ serves up a meal full of laughter
WILLIAMSTON,, Mich.–Some shows exist just to make you laugh.
James Sherman’s Beau Jest is one of those shows, especially when in the hands of a capable cast and crew such as the ones found in this Williamston Theatre production.
The show, in which a young woman hires an actor from an escort service to pretend to be her Jewish boyfriend in front of her hovering family, has the potential to be hokey if not handled well. It’s a two-hour show and demands the kind of comic pacing that director Tony Caselli is adept at delivering.
It also helps that the cast is fully committed to each choice and keeps the show moving at a breakneck pace.
Vanessa Sawson’s Sarah Goldman is at the center of the show and she is likeable and filled with a frenetic energy. She juggles her lies frantically all in an effort to keep everyone (except perhaps hapless boyfriend and non-Jew Chris Cringle, played by David Wolber) happy. Put her on stage with Michael Lopetrone’s Bob Schroeder and the fireworks fly. You can’t help but root for these two.
Bob, a Chicago actor, is brought in by the escort service, thinking he’s taking someone out to dinner. Instead, he’s being asked to portray Sarah’s Jewish doctor-boyfriend, David. He gets barely a few minutes to get into the role before the arrival of Sarah’s overbearing and perfectly delightful family.
It’s easy to see why everyone falls in love with each other.
Sandra Birch is Miriam and Fred Buchalter is Abe, Sarah’s parents. Birch and Buchalter bicker like a long-married couple with that constant underlying note of affection. Birch helps us fall in love with Miriam by almost always keeping an affectionate smile on her face. This is not a grumpy Jewish mother. No, she is exuberant, loving and eager to have all good things come to her family.
Patrick Loos plays Joel, the therapist brother who is yet one more person that Sarah and Bob have to fool as they go through two meals together.
Bob’s acting skills are put to the test when he has to go through two Jewish meals, including a holiday, on the fly. The constant non-verbal communication between Lopetrone and Sawson is priceless. They display a chemistry that makes the eventual outcome inevitable. They also both have an incredible energy that keeps the audience wondering whether they’re going to be able to keep up their charade and providing laugh after laugh when they succeed—and even more when they fail.
Lopetrone really is convincing as the struggling actor, for he pulls out every acting trick in the book to convince Sarah’s family that he really is a Jewish doctor who has been dating their daughter for a long time. He’s so skilled that you’re left wondering why he doesn’t have more work.
Wolber really has a thankless task as Chris. Compared to the vibrancy of the other characters, their energy, their over-the-top personalities, Chris is intentionally flat and not nearly as engaging as the other characters. He is the one who gets hidden and left behind.
The meals really are a delight to watch, even when Bob makes cringe-worthy mistakes. Stage manager Stefanie Din makes sure all of Michelle Raymond’s props and food are ready to move on and off the stage at break-neck pace. It adds a verisimilitude to each scene, establishing not just that this is a Jewish family, but why their Jewishness is so important to them.
Beau Jest is filling the holiday slot for Williamston theater, and it is certainly a show about families celebrating holidays, learning to relate to each other, and finding a way to be authentic. It’s also a show that is filled with laughs. Like many Williamston shows, you leave feeling good, having spent two hours in pure joy.