First, let me say that the charming comedy “Beau Jest,” now being presented by Schenectady Civic Players, had its opening night audience rolling in the aisles.
And rightfully so. It is a sweet pastiche of everything romantic and everything Jewish. A Jewish girl, Sarah (Sara Fittizzi), hires an “escort,” Bob (Randy McConnach), to impersonate a Jewish boyfriend, Dr. David Steinberg, to please her parents. Her current boyfriend, Chris (David Hammer), isn’t Jewish and her parents don’t approve of him. Unfortunately, Bob isn’t Jewish either, but as an actor he has performed in “Fiddler on the Roof,” so he is able to pass. The script is episodic and predictable and eventually Bob and Sarah fall in love.
Sarah’s parents, Abe, played with dimension and skill by Joe Phillips, and Miriam (Susan Katz), and Sarah’s brother Joel (Mark Todaro) arrive for a traditional holiday seder in one episode, and the whole ceremony is played out with true-to-life insouciance. Abe skips from ritual to ritual, abandoning those he doesn’t want to bother with.
“Having been brought up in the Jewish tradition,” said one audience member (a friend of a friend), “I was reminded of my father.” And Phillips does get it exactly right.
Katz makes a valiant attempt at being a Jewish mother with a stab at a few Molly Goldberg inflections, but it doesn’t quite work.
Still, these performers are most able, and the show does work on the level of romantic comedy.
Fittizzi is adorably kerfuffled as the young lady caught between two boyfriends, her parents’ approval and her brother’s logic. Her comic acting hits all the right notes. McConnach is beautifully broad without being trite. And when the play gets serious, McConnach does, too. Todaro plays Sarah’s therapist brother with a calm and sensitive appeal. He is the most centered of the characters. Hammer is unsympathetic as the boyfriend who loses the girl, and he makes the comedic most of that role. Katz is bouncy and bright as Miriam, balancing the roles of overprotective mother and nattering wife with comic skill.
Director Gary M. Hoffman has gathered a production team that makes the show work with exceptional smoothness. Set designer Robert Lamont Hegeman has created a fluid and inviting set in shades of copper and gold. It is a one-bedroom apartment, true, but it is also interesting and textured. Costumes by Debbie Lummis are attractive and serve the show. Kudos to stage manager Laura Houlihan and her crew for seamless scene changes, and prop mistress Deanna Kremzier must be praised for the 1990s feel of the apartment.