Parents are difficult in every culture. If they're kind, loving people who only want the best for their adult children, they can be pretty darn willful about just what that "best" might be. So grown-up offspring have to find ingenious ways of asserting their own independence while still preserving their parents' goodwill. Beau Jest airily asserts that it's possible to please the 'rents and live your own life at the same time. And the intimate RiverTree Theatre is just the right venue for this kind of blithe cultural comedy.
Sarah has spent her whole life trying to please her parents--which isn't easy since they love her so much. Miriam and Abe want Sarah to marry a nice Jewish doctor. Sarah, meanwhile, is dating a gentile her parents don't approve of. So she pretends to break up with him and hires an actor to play the part of a nice Jewish doctor. That way, her mother won't keep setting her up with other men, and she can go on seeing Chris Kringle.
But Bob, the actor sent by the escort service, turns out not to be Jewish. Fortunately, he played in Fiddler on the Roof and has a working acquaintance with certain important prayers--which helps him through the first of Sarah's dinner parties. Though he makes a few understandable mistakes, her parents don't seem to notice. Only her older brother remains suspicious. How many doctors operate on the heart and the brain at the same time? And why doesn't "Doctor" Steinberg carry a beeper?
The deception is so successful with her parents, however, that Sarah invites them back for Passover. As they take turns reading the Haggadah, Bob gets into it--further into it than anyone else at the table. He's falling for Sarah, of course, but he's also falling for her parents--and the family life he has never experienced.
By the third act, Bob's in love and willing to convert. But then, so is Chris Kringle. Meanwhile, brother Joel has demanded to know the truth and Bob wants to tell him--along with Miriam and Abe. Sarah finally has to face growing up.
Kami Lichtenberg leads the cast of this frolic with a winning portrayal of a confused young woman teetering on the brink of adult responsibility. She falters from time to time when she tries to stay too cute--the whining over how she's tried to please her parents all her life doesn't quite ring true. But then, there's not a lot of room in this kind of comedy for emotional layers.
Charles Wingerter combines sweet insouciance with dry wit and wide-eyed innocence in his portrayal of actor-Bob-playing-Doctor-David. James T. Stokes keeps brother Joel agitated, insecure and skeptical in all the right places. But it's Sue Leiser as Miriam and Roger L. Simon as Abe who anchor the whole production. They're perfect together--funny, real and comfortable in their characters. They bicker the way people married for forty years really bicker, with a warm underpinning of concern and affection.
As fluffy and blatantly sentimental as it is, Beau Jest works because its ambitions are modest and because we recognize our own parents in these parents. It's exactly as good as the sum of its parts--and that's enough.