Theater Review: BEAU JEST (Glendale Centre Theatre)

Post image for Theater Review: BEAU JEST (Glendale Centre Theatre)

by Jeanne Hartman on August 25, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

THIS BEAU IS JEST FINE

Do you ever just want to go home, eat your mother’s comforting chicken soup, put on your oldest fuzzy slippers and find some old-fashioned comedy on AMC? Well, you’ll get no soup or slippers at Beau Jest, but you will be glad you got away from home for this old-fashioned, classic Jewish-American comedy that allows you to stop worrying about your 401K and enjoy a night in the theater. If you are prone to delight in the antics of the Greek family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you will appreciate this hilarious Jewish family (not to mention the Parmesan Crisps served at intermission).

Beau Jest - Glendale Centre Theatre

While some fairly corny and eye-rolling one-liners litter James Sherman’s play, his goal was simply to entertain. Maybe that’s why it ran for three years Off Broadway. The playwright’s background with Second City in Chicago is evident not just in the funny, fast paced, carefully constructed banter, but in his infusion of Windy City references, such as Drury Lane and the Old Candlelight Playhouse. (He also directed the film version of Beau Jest with Lainie Kazan and Seymour Cassel in 2008.)

First, attention must be paid to the theater: When you get off that insane freeway and walk through the theater’s entrance, you realize that you have just stepped into a jewel box. It could be anywhere across the Midwest or the South but certainly not right next door to Hollywood.  It’s kitschy décor and friendly staff make you feel like you are in the home of your Uncle Mervin and Aunt Minnie. This theater has been owned and operated by the same family for the past 64 years – obviously Brenda and Tim Dietlein know their audiences and choose plays and musicals that keep their subscribers returning year after year. At GTC, unlike so many Los Angeles theaters, you relax into beautiful new lush crimson seats that encircle the theater-in-the round set.

This night the stage is beautifully decorated as Sarah Goldman’s tasteful, warm living room, but parent-pleasing Sarah (Alison Robertson) has a problem. How far will she go to mollify her – what else? – loving, opinionated Jewish parents, Abe (Mario Di Gregorio) and Miriam (Elaine Rose)? Of course, they want her to be happy; but to be happy, she needs to be married to a nice Jewish boy (is this a commandment in the Torah?). Unfortunately, Sarah is in love with Chris Kringle (the earnest, ardent Shawn Cahill). (The show’s innate appeal allows us to go with the ridiculousness of his name.)

What’s a Jewish daughter to do? Lie. Sarah hires Bob Schroeder (charming Kelly Flynn), an actor from an escort agency, so mom will stop fixing her up. Bob thinks he will be entertaining an elderly woman, but upon his arrival at the family’s traditional Seder dinner, he discovers he must pretend to be Sarah’s Jewish boyfriend, Dr. Steinberg. It’s especially fun to watch the wide-eyed actor (playing an actor playing a surgeon) struggle to find his answers to Miriam’s many questions. Thank goodness Bob was in Fiddler on the Roof!

The minute Ms. Rose and Mr. Di Gregorio enter Sarah’s living room, you understand why Sarah is choosing deceit. You believe that this perfectly cast couple has been married for decades, bickering daily about the same things. And you wish you could taste Miriam’s lukshen kugel!  If you relate to Miriam as your mother, your grandmother, or your Aunt Gertie, expect to definitely get a kick out of this play; others may have to look elsewhere. You know who you are.

Beau Jest - Glendale Centre Theatre

As the duplicitous Sarah, Ms. Robertson is well aware that great comedy – and comic timing – comes from pain and frustration. During Sarah and Bob’s dance of deception during dinner, the mostly subscription audience actually gasped when the couple’s machinations seemed about to be exposed at any moment.  By maneuvering past the silly one-liners and obvious double-takes, the actors find merriment in each scene.

As Joel Goldman, the supportive therapist brother, Danny Michaels completes the cast.  Unfortunately, he’s physically miscast (looking more like a brother to his father than a son), but he plays it well.

Director Martin Lang’s beautiful staging clues us to obvious familiarity with this theater-in-the-round stage and its spatial challenges. Never once is there a sense of missing the action or reactions. He was ably supported by Tim Dietlein’s wonderful set and Angela Wood’s perfect costumes (particularly Miriam’s ensembles).

This reviewer loves challenging theater, but this light, frothy evening is simply a delight. If you’re overdue to take your favorite aunt to the theater, would it kill you to bring her to a performance of Beau Jest?

photos by Tim Dietlein

Beau Jest
Glendale Centre Theatre
324 N. Orange St. in Glendale
ends on September 24, 2011
for tickets, call 818 244-8481 or visit GCT

Comments on this entry are closed.