Surely, You Jest

Parable Productions performs its shows at Calvary Chapel located in Murray. Upon entering the performance space, the audience is treated to sound bytes of real answering machine messages, Amy’s Answering Machine, instead of music before the show, as well as during intermission; I found it a rather inventive and delightful alternative as the sound bytes worked well, in my opinion, to set the tone of the show and keep the audience invested during intermission. There is ample seating here, but the stage is very small. All the more reason why I am always impressed with the typical set and lighting design by Annie Fields, and by how well it makes  use of the limited space; this time was no exception. Set in 1990 and spanning the course of roughly four weeks, the entirety of the show takes place in the homey, and just-a-titch kitschy, Chicago apartment of one Miss Sarah Goldman (delightfully portrayed by Marissa Poole); an unmarried, 30-year-old Jewish woman who teaches Kindergarten. It all begins with a little white lie. Sarah’s stereotypically opinionated and controlling, yet loving, Jewish parents, Abe and Miriam Goldberg (Neal Barth and Nancy Jensen are very well paired in these roles) just want her to be happy, but to be happy, she needs to marry a nice Jewish boy. Problem is, Sarah is seeing a nice Gentile boy: Chris Cringle (Joshua Shimizu). Yes, that’s right, Chris Cringle, like Santa Clause. To appease her parents, and really to gain relief from her mother’s relentless match-making, Sarah tells Abe and Miriam that she is no longer seeing Chris (Oy! A goy!) Cringle. But, Sarah doesn’t stop there. Oh no. She goes onto invent an appropriately Jewish and successful boyfriend, the kind her parents have always dreamed of, so they can feel all warm and fuzzy that their not-so-little-anymore-girl is making good choices. Sarah fleshes out her imaginary boyfriend, telling them all about how they met, what he does for a living, and even where his parents live. Voila! Problem solved, right? Not right. Because now, the Goldmans, completely ecstatic over their daughters impressive catch, insist on meeting the new man in Sarah’s life. So what’s a nice Jewish girl to do? Why, tell just one more little white lie, of course.

Sarah decides she must hire someone to play the part of her new ‘boyfriend’. Her only requirement? That he be Jewish. Enter Bob Schroeder (Ed Farnsworth), a struggling actor making ends meet by getting paid to escort mostly lonely, elderly women for a night of theatre or dining. Assuming Bob is Jewish because of his surname, the escort agency assigns him to be Sarah’s dinner date for the evening. Bob has no idea that he is actually about to be ‘cast’ in his most challenging role yet.  As he arrives at Sarah’s apartment, he begins to see that this is not his typical assignment. He is informed that they will not be dining alone; Sarah has invited her parents and her brother Joel (Ren Shore) to join them!  Sarah lays out the plan: it is Bob’s job to portray the invented, and very Jewish, very successful boyfriend, Dr. David Steinberg. Just one problem, the agency was wrong in their assumption; as it turns out, despite having a rather Jewish-sounding name, Bob isn’t Jewish at all. In spite of this inconvenient fact, and his complete lacking of a career in medicine, Sarah convinces Bob to stay and help her. Drawing on his past acting experiences in shows such as Fiddler on the Roof and Gypsy, Bob manages to, along with Sarah’s help, successfully negotiate the evening. Watching Bob and Sarah’s dance of deception during dinner, it seemed the couple’s maneuvers to deceive the Goldman’s would be exposed at any moment. But in the end, Bob’s performance ultimately convinces Abe and Miriam Goldman that their daughter has found the perfect, Jewish beau.

Fast forward a few weeks and Sarah must call on Bob for help once again. As he reprises his role of ‘Dr. David Steinberg’ during Passover dinner, Bob only further serves to endear himself to Sarah’s parents, and as we soon find out, that endearment extends to Sarah herself. It becomes clear that play-acting the part of a couple in love has given way to the stirrings of genuine emotion and fondness. As the show moves forward into the last and final act, another family dinner of course, we see where this is going and it becomes obvious that Sarah is on the fast track to being forced to deal with the, as she puts it, ‘Monster’ she has created.

In spite of a few rough spots in the show, such as awkward pauses or when a few of the actors seemed to have problems with fumbling lines or falling out of character, I still very much enjoyed this show. Beau Jest by James Sherman, is filled with plenty of one-liners (some on the corny side) and witty, but blessedly less than cerebral, dialogue that kept me laughing and entertained.  In this reviewer’s opinion, this lighthearted romp is a perfect show to see with your parents (for more than a few reasons) or a date.  At only $5.00 a ticket it’s well worth the price. Parable Productions Presents Beau Jest, September 16, 17, 18, & 19 at 7:00 pm. At the Calvary Chapel Salt Lake 460 W Century Dr (4350 S). Visit www.parableproductions.org for more details.

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