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The ‘wisdom and hilarity’ of ‘Beau Jest’

By Charlene Baldridge

It’s 1989 Chicago. Miriam and Abe, Sarah Goldman’s parents, are ecstatic. She tells them she’s no longer dating Chris the Gentile (not true) and moreover, she has a nice, new, Jewish boyfriend (not true, either), who’s a surgeon at one of Chicago’s best hospitals.

A successful businesswoman, Sarah’s been on her own for quite some time, and now it appears that Miriam and Abe’s fondest wish for her may come true. They do what all good parents do: They invite themselves to dinner to meet the prospective son-in-law and even take Sarah’s brother, a divorced therapist, with them.

James Sherman’s romantic comedy, “Beau Jest,” is just the ticket for a light-hearted theatrical evening, and Lamb’s Players Theatre, where it plays through Feb. 12, has cast it beautifully. Kerry Meads directs.

Erika Beth Phillips, who wears costume designer Jemima Dutra’s period dresses and shoes wonderfully well, plays Sarah. The suitors, Jason Heil as Chris and Ross Hellwig as Bob — the at-sea pseudo-surgeon recruited from an escort service — are “got up” attractively as well.

Sarah’s relationship with her mother (Sandy Campbell) and dad (John Rosen) has never been based on honesty. Now she’s boiling in her own hot water, with Bob struggling to pass himself off as 1) Jewish and 2) a physician specializing in heart and brain surgery.

In truth, Bob is an actor, so he knows “Fiddler on the Roof” (that gets him through the Seder) and has also acted in some hospital sitcoms, so he successfully convinces nearly everyone. He also refuses to accept Sarah’s money. He’s crazy about her and her family. The real problem is Sarah’s brother Joel (Omri Schein), who becomes suspicious and wears the most awful sweaters in the Midwest.

‘Alternative facts’ on stage

Absolute froth in the first act, “Beau Jest” turns serious in Act II, when Sarah must confess her ruse, pick the man she wants to marry and turn over a new leaf, honesty. It’s not easy when one has been less than transparent for so many years.

“Beau Jest” may feel a bit dated, but it is nonetheless an extremely funny play. Hellwig is especially endearing as Bob, and he and Phillips do stir up some heat as they fall in love.

I had a slight problem with the casting of Schein, an outrageously good comedian, as Joel. The eye is drawn to him even when it should not be. Any time you have such a comedian acting the truth teller, you could be in trouble. Fortunately my misgivings were overcome in large part.

With scenic design by Mike Buckley and lighting by Nathan Peirson, the feel is definitely that of Chicago in the spring. And the parents, instead of stereotypes, come across as real and likeable, thanks to the real and wonderful performances of Campbell and Rosen. Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s amusing sound design, which draws on everything “Fiddler,” is a veritable treasure.

—Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenecriticism.blogspot.com or reach her at charb81@gmail.com.

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