By Pat Launer
“You don’t lie to your parents!” Sarah Goldman’s father shouts at her. “I’ll tell you when you lie… You lie to the man who says you can’t come into his country… You lie to the man who says you can’t go to his school because you have a name that sounds funny.”
Coming late in the second act of “Beau Jest” (a very funny 1989 comedy), at this fragile, frightening time in our country’s evolution, the words hit particularly hard, lending gravitas to an otherwise light-hearted, high-spirited family comic romp.
The whole premise of the play is Sarah’s lying to her parents. She wants so badly to make them happy (to make everyone happy) that she’s been sneaking around with her non-Jewish boyfriend (with the unlikely, unfunny name of Chris Kringle), for the past six months. Lately, her mother has been trying to fix her up with every NJB (Nice Jewish Boy) in creation.
So it’s time for Sarah to take more aggressive, parent-pleasing action. She invents a new boyfriend, a Nice Jewish Doctor (NJD?) named David Steinberg, and she hires an escort (read: actor) to take on the role.
Bob Schroeder is totally game. He arrives at Sarah’s house just before her family arrives for Shabbat dinner, gets a quick briefing on her relatives and his fabricated history — and has just enough time to tell her that he’s not Jewish either. Hysteria and hilarity ensue. (Good thing Bob was in a production of “Fiddler on the Roof”; that experience sees him through this dinner and a Passover seder).
Lamb’s Players Theatre last ventured into these (rather Jewish) waters in 1998. This time, half the cast is Jewish, a choice by director Kerry Meads, Lambs’ associate artistic director who also helmed the earlier production, that gives the play a heightened authenticity.
Erika Beth Phillips, John Rosen and Omri Schein clearly know this family, whether they grew up in Chicago or not. (They’ve probably got them, or their counterparts, in their own clan.) The Hebrew and Yiddishisms sound right. The pacing (and kvetching) are perfect.
Phillips is spot-on as the neurotic, hyper, Good Girl trying to make everyone feel all right. She’s loving with Chris (a solid Jason Heil) and surprisingly seductive with David/Bob (delightfully plucky Ross Hellwig, who gets to show his deft comic chops, after his stellar outing last year as perhaps my favorite-ever Nick in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at Intrepid Theatre).
Sandy Campbell has just the right tone as Sarah’s bickering mother and John Rosen is superb as the long-suffering struggler-for-parking. Omri Schein steals all his scenes as Sarah’s skeptical, whiney brother, the divorced psychologist. A splendid ensemble all around.
The attractive set (Mike Buckley) is all well-appointed pink and white and chintz, but it looks more like a grandma’s flat than that of a young woman of the late ‘80s. The costumes (Jemima Dutra) fit the period just right. The lighting (Nathan Peirson) is effective, but the sound design (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) leans heavily on “Fiddler.”
But anyone who’s ever had a parent or a sibling or a boyfriend will not only relate, but guffaw. Guaranteed.
- “Beau Jest” runs through Feb. 12 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue in Coronado
- Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2:30 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
- Tickets ($24-$72) are available at 619-495-3066 or online at lambsplayers.org
- Running time: 2½ hrs.
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 patlauner.com.