By Pat Launer
How far would you go to please your parents? Would you lie? Would you hire an actor to impersonate your ideal (fantasy) boyfriend?
That’s just what Sarah Goldman does in James Sherman’s 1989 comedy, “Beau Jest.” She invents a Nice Jewish Doctor that her parents will love (that’s because she’s continuing to date non-Jewish Chris Cringle — really! — on the sly). So she calls an escort service and fortuitously, gets an actor, Bob Schroeder — who turns out not to be Jewish either. Family gatherings (Shabbat dinner, a Passover seder) and hilarity ensue, not to mention a blossoming romance and an ultimate, if reluctant, spate of honesty and forgiveness all around.
This is a very funny play. At Scripps Ranch Theatre, it’s only sporadically amusing. It’s not quite clear why director Kathy Brombacher and her ensemble chose to update the timeframe. Are smartphones and girlfriend-tracking apps really necessary? How about mentions of Jimmy Fallon on TV? (And can you really add new lines to a published play?). Anyway, how do all those modern contrivances jibe with more dated references, like a doctor’s pager and ‘personal ads’? It feels like a bit of a mishmash.
Of greater concern is the wide range of Yiddish and Hebrew pronunciations in the cast (though there are no Jewish members in the ensemble, there were three Jewish consultants called in. Can’t everyone agree on ONE pronunciation of kugel? Hint: It’s not KOO-gull!)
At the center of the action is Virginia Gregg as Sarah. She’s adorable and physically agile. She shines in the dramatic moments. But she isn’t quite as Jewish or neurotic or funny as written. As her first boyfriend, Paul Morgavo (always a solid performer) seems an age mismatch. In the small role of Joel, Sarah’s psychologist brother, Justin Allen Slagle is credible, but more as a psychologist than a Jewish psychologist; there’s a difference, but he can pass.
Ryan Fahey is charming as the actor Bob, who fakes his way through the Jewish holidays by calling on his experience in a touring production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” That seder scene should be side-splitting; here, it’s merely mildly entertaining, dragged down by the obvious struggling lack of familiarity with all the Hebrew songs and prayers the script includes.
The design work is fine (though the apartment could easily pass for 1990 rather than 2015). The pace and comic timing could be snappier. This is the first (of many times) I’ve seen this play where the focus is more on the family love-honesty-assertion of independence than the quirky-funny journey to that destination.
- “Beau Jest” runs through June 21 at the Legler Benbough Theatre on the campus of Alliant International University, 9783 Avenue of Nations, Scripps Ranch
- Performances are Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
- Tickets ($26-$29) are available at 858-578-7728 or online at www.scrippsranchtheatre.org
- Running time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.