Perhaps the three best words of advice to offer any theater company hoping to stay in business year after year are the following: Know Your Audience. The post-retirement set who make up Glendale Centre Theatre’s loyal subscribers keep coming back again and again because they trust GTC to give them the kind of time-proven hit musicals and plays that they grew up enjoying, shows like this season’s Forever Plaid, To Kill a Mockingbird, Big River, and 1776, to name just a few.

Beau Jest, the current Glendale offering, isn’t going to win any “Drama Critics’ Circle” awards for sophistication, daring, or cutting-edgedness. In fact, the New York Times savaged a New Jersey production back in 1994 in a review which still shows up first if you Google the title. But tell that to last night’s mostly over-65 crowd, who loved every one of Beau Jest’s sitcommy jokes and archetypical characters, and you know what? Even though I’m not quite as up there in age as the majority of the aforementioned, I too had a ball from start to finish, thanks in great part to the terrific talent who’ve put together GCT’s latest offering.

James Sherman’s 1989 family comedy centers on Sarah Goldman (Alison Robertson), still single at 30something and still very much under her traditional Jewish parents’ thumbs. For the past six months, she’s been dating a nice guy named Chris (Shawn Cahill) who’d be perfect except for one thing. He’s not a Jew, and news that their daughter is romantically involved with a Gentile would not sit well with the Goldmans, Abe (Mario DeGregorio) and Miriam (Elaine Rose), whose older son Joel (Danny Michaels) has already given them plenty to kvetch about with his divorce.

Tired of being fixed up with the “nice Jewish boys” Momma Miriam has so carefully screened for her daughter, Sarah comes up with an inspiration. She will hire a Jewish escort (the kind that take elderly women to the opera, not the kind who give happy endings) to pretend to be her Torah-observing boyfriend and keep dating Chris on the side.

That’s what’s brought actor Bob Schroeder (Kelly Flynn) over to Sarah’s this evening, though it isn’t until he arrives that he learns he’s to impersonate an entirely fictitious Dr. David Steinberg for tonight’s family seder. It’s also not till Bob arrives that Sarah learns that even though the name Schroeder certainly sounds Jewish, about the closest Bob has gotten to being one of the Chosen People was the six months he toured opposite Herschel Bernardi in Fiddler On The Roof.

Beau Jest imagines the merriment and mayhem that take place at that first Meet The Parents dinner, at a second one two weeks later, and then a third two weeks after that. And if you think that Sarah won’t soon find herself falling in love with The Goy Who Came To Dinner, then you haven’t been reading what’s been written on the wall since their first meet-cute.

If asked to describe Beau Jest at Glendale Center Theater, Miriam Goldman would probably respond, “Sophisticated it’s not, but funny it is.”

And this reviewer concurs.

Credit director Martin Lang for the production’s sprightly pace and a highly effective use of GCT’s in-the-round stage. Credit set and lighting designer Tim Dietlein for once again making that stage (and Sarah’s Chicago apartment) look so spiffy, and costume designer Angela Wood and Glendale Costumes for making the acting ensemble look like they’ve stepped right out of the late ‘80s. But most of all credit the cast for making the very most of Sherman’s Poconos-ready jokes—the majority of which are pretty darned funny so long as you’re not expecting Sir Noël Coward.

Robertson is positively luminous as Sarah, her engaging, finely-tuned performance a textbook lesson in comic timing and keeping it real, no matter the madness around you. DeGregorio and Rose have their Jewish parents shtick down pat, and could offer their own lessons in comic timing and letter-perfect precision at any age. The always excellent Michaels proves his versatility in a considerably more understated role than he usually plays. Cahill is such a terrific (and sexy) Chris that it’s hard to imagine Sarah falling for anyone else. Finally, Flynn demonstrates crackerjack comedic skills as Bob/Dr. David, but is way too old for a role that calls for a mid-thirties George Clooney type to sweep Sarah off her feet.

Justin Radford is stage manager.

No, Private Lives it’s not, nor is Beau Jest nearly as smart as one of Neil Simon’s best comedic hits. But entertaining?  That it is—and then some, particularly in Glendale Centre Theatre’s most capable hands. The folks at GCT do indeed know their audience, an audience that is sure to love every minute of Beau Jest and head on home as satisfied as if they’d had one of Miriam Goldman’s home-cooked meals.

Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
–Steven Stanley
August 24, 2011

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