This review of Theatre By The Bay's production of Beau Jest at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Book by James Sherman
Directed by Patrice Valenti
Set Design by John Baratta & Lila Edelkind
Artistic Director: Cathy Chimenti
Producers: Eli Koenig, Barbara Koenig & Martha Stein
Theatre By The Bay
Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center
13-00 209th Street
Bayside, New York 11360
The underlying French phrase "beau geste" is defined by Dictionary.com as "a fine or noble gesture, often futile or only for effect." In Beau Jest, a comedy written by James Sherman, Sarah Goldman (Nili Resnick) hires Bob Schroeder (Stephen Kalogeras), a male escort from the Heaven Sent Escort Agency, to play Dr. David Steinberg, a Jewish boyfriend she made up to please her parents, Abe Goldman (Robert Budnick) and Miriam Goldman (Amy Goldman), who have been on her back to date "a nice Jewish boy." Sarah hires Bob to attend her father's birthday party in her apartment only to discover upon his arrival that Bob is not even Jewish. Bob qualified to be an escort because he spoke "good English" and owned a suit. This "jack of all trades" was also a bartender, a massage therapist, and luckily for Sarah, a part-time actor who is convinced he can play a believable Jewish doctor (i.e. a surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital) and complete the assignment. Cast aside in all this is Chris Cringle (Kyle T. Cheng), an advertising account executive at Leo Burnett, who Sarah has been secretly dating for six months. Sarah told her parents she broke up with Chris after they objected to his being Christian, and in this production, also Asian. Chris, of course, is not pleased Sarah feels uncomfortable introducing him as her current boyfriend but is also especially concerned after she doesn't tell him she loves him in the presence of Bob. Also in the mix is Joel Goldman (Robert Gold), Sarah's divorced brother, who is a therapist.
Beau Jest first premiered on November 16, 1989 at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago. The play is set in Chicago with references to the now defunct Marshall Field's department store, Kaufman's Bagel & Delicatessen (in Skokie), Second City (where Bob took acting lessons), and to the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. The action takes place in Sarah's one-bedroom apartment in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago, where parking is a nightmare. Sarah is a kindergarten teacher who has no idea what her end-game is. She re-hires Bob to attend the second night of Passover Seder, but he is becoming increasingly uncomfortable about deceiving Sarah's parents. Complicating matters further, Bob and Sarah are beginning to develop feelings for one another, setting up a classic love triangle, which pays off in the expected, confrontation near the end of the second act as the boyfriends try to out-do one another by expressing their willingness to convert and take other steps that will prove the intensity and sincerity of their love. The only thing not produced was a ruler, which was unnecessary since Sarah already slept with both men multiple times. In the end, the final decision has to be made by Sarah, who realizes she must live her life as she sees fit and not to please, or avoid displeasing, her parents. The play reflects universal themes regarding relationships between parents and their children.
Clues that Dr. David Steinberg (Bob) is not a surgeon and not Jewish are everywhere but no one seems to pick up on them. When Sarah's mother observes he doesn't look Jewish and asks if he is Sephardic, Bob responds, "No. Jewish." When asked by Sarah's father where "salmonella" comes from, Bob responds "it is caused by a very special bacteria that gets into the salmon." Sarah is very well aware of the fact that she hired Bob and knows what he does for a living. She asks Bob to help her set the dinner table and then after the family leaves, she invites Bob to give her a neck massage by telling him how "tense" she is and how when she tried out for the swimming team, "they used me as a diving board." The point of the play is to suggest that "the only person preventing you from living your own life is you!" Joel Goldman says that many of his clients "blame all their problems on their parents" and his advice to them is "Get Over It." In the end, Sarah tries to improve her relationship with her parents, and her mother eventually tells her, "Whatever you want to do, you do!" even if that means microwaving dishes instead of putting them in the oven.
The four main leads in this production of Beau Jest are all amazingly talented actors. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Stephen Kalogeras, who played Bob Schroeder/Dr. David Steinberg. Nili Resnick was very believable as the immature Sarah, making up stories as she goes along without regard for the consequences of her lies or who she hurts. Robert Budnick and Amy Goldman exhibited great rapport as Mr. & Mrs. Goldman often arguing like an old married couple. Robert Gold wasn't bad portraying Joel Goldman, Sarah's brother, but it wasn't clear from his facial expressions when he started to doubt whether Bob was really a doctor or even Jewish. The only sub-par performance in this production was that of Kyle T. Cheng, who played Chris Cringle. While I understand his character was supposed to be a more reserved, less exciting, account executive, I felt his acting did not convincingly portray his feelings for Sarah. Sometimes non-traditional casting works and can provide a whole new perspective on a role. In this case, it didn't work and detracted from my enjoyment of an otherwise delightful and engaging show.
I strongly recommend you make every effort to catch Beau Jest during its final weekend at Theatre By The Bay. Performances are on Saturday, March 17th at 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 18th at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are available for $22.00 for adults, and $20.00 for seniors ages 62 and over, and children ages 12 and under. For more information, or to purchase your seats, call 718-428-6363, or visit www.theatrebythebayny.com