James Sherman’s Beau Jest is well-suited — maybe ideal — for the core audience at Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs.
True, the 1990 comedy isn’t jam-packed with laughs like a Neil Simon play, and some of its choices (such as naming the Jewish heroine’s gentile boyfriend Chris Kringle) are groan-inducing. But Beau Jest simply resonates in South Florida. So reviving it — particularly if the revival works as well as the Michael Leeds-directed one at Stage Door — makes sense.
Set in a nice Chicago neighborhood at the end of the 1980s, Beau Jest explores a close Jewish family in which two generations are loving but not always honest with each other. Kindergarten teacher Sarah Goldman (Sara Fetgatter) is in love with ad guy Chris Kringle (Justin Lawrence), but because her parents don’t approve, she lies and tells them she has dumped him. Lying, we soon see, is Sara’s modus operandi, the way she keeps her smothering parents at bay.
To keep her mother, Miriam (Sally Bondi), from trying to set her up with an endless parade of nice Jewish “boys,” Sarah dreams up a parent-perfect boyfriend: a charming Jewish doctor. That halts the parade, but before long, Miriam, her hubby, Abe (Larry Kent Bramble), and Sarah’s divorced psychologist brother, Joel (Mark Levy), are headed to Sarah’s apartment to meet the dreamboat over dinner. What to do?
Sarah’s solution — another lie — is to hire an out-of-work actor to play the fictitious Dr. David Steinberg. The actor, Bob Schroeder (Matthew William Chizever), is moonlighting as a genteel escort to cultural events, so Sarah’s improv-laced acting job sounds like more fun (and no sweat) to him. Just one problem: Bob isn’t Jewish, either.
The laughs in Beau Jest are more gentle than riotous, but the script is laced with plenty of truths about smothering, controlling parents and a young adult who hasn’t developed a grown-up’s spine.
Chizever does most of the comedic heavy lifting as Bob, an actor who gained most of his insights into Judaism from being in productions of Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret.. His Bob is always one blown line away from wrecking Sarah’s fiction, so Chizever makes the actor energized, nervous and very funny.
Fetgatter is a sweet and pretty Sarah, and though her web of lies grows ever more ludicrous and desperate, the teacher’s attraction to her pretend doctor beau is quite credible. Bondi and Bramble are saddled with stereotypical characters — Miriam is planning Sarah’s wedding from the moment she lays eyes on the fake doc, and Abe is always kvetching about one thing or the other — but the actors bring plenty of warmth to the senior Goldmans. Both Lawrence and Levy are effective in their far smaller roles.
Director Leeds keeps the comedy breezy and affectionate. Characters come into conflict, get hurt and come out the other side OK. Beau Jest is neither deep nor great, but Leeds and his cast explore and deliver its modest pleasures.