“Beau Jest” could easily be the next play everyone does too often, like “The Foreigner.” It is pleasant and funny and involves a guy pretending to be something he’s not, which results in many high jinks and shenanigans. (High jinks and shenanigans are very popular in live theater.)
A production of the play directed by Syd Riggs is now at Hale Center Theater Orem, where the casual, homey environment is perfectly suited to the show’s good-natured jollity.
The faker in question is Bob Schroeder (Ryan Radebaugh), an actor who has been hired by Sarah Goldman (Jolene Sayers) to pose as her boyfriend for the benefit of her extremely Jewish parents (Nancy Douglas Candrian and Larson Holyoak). They wouldn’t approve of her real boyfriend, Chris (Doug Shattuck; normally played in this cast by Kevin Goertzen), because he’s a gentile.
Unfortunately for Sarah, Bob turns out to be no more Jewish than her actual boyfriend is — which complicates the matter even further when the charade becomes reality and Sarah and Bob begin to fall in love. It’s a ridiculous premise — why not just have the gentile boyfriend pretend to be Jewish, rather than hiring a Jewish actor? — but the cast generally plays it realistically and avoids the pedestrian farce that might have crept in otherwise. Nancy Douglas Candrian and Larson Holyoak are especially believable as the fussy Jewish parents, without becoming stereotypes.
Jolene Sayers reminds me of Kirsten Dunst, both in her pretty looks and her perky-but-smart demeanor. Ryan Radebaugh excels at playing unflappable characters thrust into strange situations — he was great in last year’s “Over the River and Through the Woods,” dealing with similar parental and grandparental aggravations — and this role seems tailor-made for him. Rather than getting flustered and frantic as Bob improvises his way through dinner with Sarah’s parents (Sarah has also saddled him with the character trait of being a doctor), Radebaugh plays him as cool under pressure. This proves the point that in comedy, realism is almost always funnier than absurdity.
“Beau Jest” moves along smoothly, clocks in with a short running time and feels even shorter. It’s solid stuff and delightfully entertaining.
Should you go? Jews and gentiles alike should find it easy-going and enjoyable.
Watching this show is what inspired me to write a "Snide Remarks" column about theater etiquette. It can be found here.