By Daniel Skora
Williamston Theatre is currently presenting “Beau Jest”. No, not that “Beau Geste”, the one about the three brothers who leave England to join the French Foreign Legion and end up in Algeria fighting desert tribes. There wouldn’t enough room on the Williamston stage to accommodate all those restless hordes of desert fighters, and imagine the liability issues involved what with sabers being swirled about in close proximity to the front row seats.
“Beau Jest” is instead a delightful comedy spiced with a dash of romance about the predicament one woman finds herself in as she tries juggling the expectations of her parents while maintaining a life of her own. Sarah Goldman (Vanessa Sawson) is a thirty-year old kindergarten teacher who’s been seeing Cris Cringle … no, not that one either. Chris (David Wolber) is a nice enough guy but as far as Sarah’s parents are concerned, he’s never going to be nice enough. The trouble with Chris is he’s not Jewish.
Sarah’s been telling her parents Abe (Fred Buchalter) and Miriam (Sandra Birch) that Chris is no longer in the picture even while she continues seeing him. To keep her parents at bay, Sarah’s invented a nice Jewish guy named David Steinberg whom she’s talked up so well that her parents have already taken to liking him even though they’ve never met. But you can’t keep mom and dad away forever, so dinner is arranged to meet the new man in Sarah’s life at her place on the Sabbath. To fill the bill of David Steinberg, Sarah hires someone from an escort service to play the part. But when Bob Schroeder (Michael Lopetrone) shows up, he isn’t Jewish as expected and Sarah’s plan appears headed for disaster. Bob, though somewhat perplexed as he was expecting a dinner date with yet another lonely dowager, is also an actor, and he’s appeared onstage in “Fiddler”. Feeling a bit sorry for the predicament Sarah finds herself in, he convinces her they can make it work.
And so the fun begins in this heartwarming comedy that you can’t help but feel good about. The play’s about family and about not sacrificing one’s own individuality while trying to be nice to others. It plays out against the celebration of a Jewish holiday and has a little fun with Jewish stereotypes.
“Beau Jest” features an all-star cast and though everyone is great at their part, the play rises or falls on the character of Sarah, and Sawson superbly captures the roller coaster ride of moods and expressions Sarah goes through as her scheme becomes increasingly more stressful. She’s complimented nicely by Lopetrone, who cuts the kind of levelheaded figure needed to make the charade work, and contributes the other half of that all-important chemistry that makes Sarah and Bob and “Beau Jest” work so well.
Williamston has adjusted its seating configuration to make this show a theatre–in-the-round. Every seat puts you right into the show, giving that added dimension that you just can’t get when you’re looking at a set with a static background.
The show is directed by Tony Caselli. Patrick Loos plays Sarah’s therapist brother Joel. Set design is by Bartley H. Bauer, lighting by Shannon T. Schweitzer, and sound by John Lepard. Props are by Michelle Raymond with costume design courtesy of Stephanie Henderson. Stage manager for the production is Stefanie Din.
“Beau Jest” is a crowd pleaser, and if you’re looking for a show that’s both fun and entertaining, this one’s for you. It would certainly be a treat for Williamston audiences if next year’s season would include playwright James Sherman’s sequel to “Beau Jest”. “Jest a Second” picks up the story a few years later and features a host of new family predicaments waiting to be solved.
“Beau Jest” runs through December 23rd. Tickets can be purchased by phone Tuesday through Friday from Noon to 6:00p.m., by calling 1.517.655.7469, by visiting the Williamston box office, or ordered online up until 24 hours prior to the performance at www.williamstontheatre.org. Williamston Theatre is located at 122 S. Putnam Road in downtown Williamston. If you’re westward bound on I-96, exit at 117.