Beau Jest is Just Fun


Erin Esposito and Andrew Foote

I liked Surflight’s current production, Beau Jest and you probably will too. In fact you may like it even more than I did. This one is a real crowd pleaser. It’s the longest running show in the history of Chicago’s Victory Gardens theater, where it premiered in 1989. When it moved to New York’s Lambs Theater in 1991 it became that theater’s longest running show ever. In fact it’s so popular it’s become quite a franchise for its author, James Sherman. In addition to a sequel, Jest a Second!, there’s also a musical version, Beau Jest: The Musical. If he can cook up two more, Sherman will match Dan Goggin's Nunsense series, which milked one premise for five shows.

Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy is also a wildly successful and critically acclaimed series of plays but Sherman is closer to Goggin than he is to Simon. Every good play illuminates some aspect of the human condition but while Simon offers profound insights Sherman plays it strictly for laughs. I believe I can pin down exactly why this play is so popular.

Beau Jest is a sitcom.

Surprisingly perhaps, I didn’t realize it until I was driving home from the theater. The woman who sat behind me should have given me a hint. She was chattering away like she was watching a TV show in her living room all through the play. Going over it in my head afterwards I felt like I had been in the studio audience of a classic three-camera situation comedy. Here’s the situation:

Sarah Goldman (Erin Esposito) is a nice Jewish girl from Chicago with a problem. She never really stopped seeing the gentile boyfriend (Christopher Deaton) of whom her parents disapproved. In a stroke of Gogginesque (Gogginan? Gogginian?) silliness Sherman has named the boyfriend Chris Kringle.

To keep her mother (Kate Konigisor) from nagging her and trying to fix her up with a guy Sarah invents a new boyfriend, Dr. David Steinberg.  But what can Sarah do when Mom and Dad (Kenny Morris) and Sarah’s psychologist brother Joel (John Anker Bow) come to her place for dinner with Sarah and her beau? She hires a Jewish actor named Bob Schroeder (Andrew Foote) from an escort service to play the part of Dr. Dave.

John Anker Bow, Erin Esposito, Andrew Foote, Kate Konigisor and Kenny Morris

OK, so right there you have a good setup for some funny lines and sticky situations. But of course it has to get more complicated than that. Complication number one: It turns out Schroeder isn’t Jewish after all. Complication number two: Sarah is hosting the family Seder in a couple of weeks. Complication number three: That Bob is a very nice guy. Is Sarah falling for him after all?

Beau Jest plays like a Seinfeld episode. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Really. So it’s a sitcom. So what? It’s a good sitcom. It’s well-written, it’s funny, it’s live, and all of the acting is top notch. The only flaw I could find is a mild distraction a few other people around me also noticed. In three scenes that take place over a period of four weeks Sarah wears the same red dress.

One thing I found interesting and amusing is how Andrew Foote is a good enough actor that he can portray an actor who’s not quite as talented as he himself is. It’s rather like the dancers in A Chorus Line who have to stumble a bit when their characters are learning a new dance step.

Although the Surflight will reopen in December for its traditional Christmas show I always consider its last show in October as the close of the season proper. I thoroughly enjoyed Surflight’s 2005 season, my fourth as The Beachcomber’s theater critic. Beau Jest is like good cup of coffee and a yummy dessert after a great dinner.

At the Surflight October 19-22 2005 at 8:00pm. October 20 and 23 at 2:00pm.