Guess whos coming to Seder?

By Tom Helma

Cast does its best with Beau Jests’ clichd Jewish humor

Boars Head Theater opened its 2009-‘10 season last week with Jeffrey Sherman’s “Beau Jest,” a lightweight confection about being Jewish in a non-Jewish culture set in 1989 Chicago.

In the play, kindergarten teacher Sarah has a hard time explaining to her parents, Abe and Miriam, that she is still dating Chris, a “goyim” (non-Jew), after telling them she has broken up with him. Thus she concocts an implausible plot, hiring an actor to pretend to be a Jewish doctor as her new suitor as a means of pleasing her parents, particularly her mother.

The play opens with a dinner scene reminiscent of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” (This reviewer half-expected Sidney Poitier to show up, but no).

Eventually, Sarah gets to live happily ever after, sort of, but not until the audience gets to laugh at every silly bit of deceit and misinformation thrown out by her and her actor-ersatz boyfriend.

Dorry Peltyn and Tim Jacobs, as Miriam and Abe, nail the stereo typical, metropolitan Jewish mom and pop exceedingly well, schlepping through every imaginable exaggerated trait and colloquialism.

Thus, a primarily non-Jewish audience gets to laugh aloud at the seemingly quaint everyday things Jewish mothers and daughters and husbands and wives quibble about. Put the Kugel in the microwave rather than the oven? Three times a joke already? Oy!

Nathan M. Hosner, as actor Bob Schroeder — who is pretending to be heart surgeon Dr. Steinberg — brings clever charm and subtlety to his role. Local actor J.D. De La Ossa as, Sarah’s real suitor, Chris, comes across authentically. However, Allie Long, in the central role of Sarah, is too quickly overwrought by everything, and she waves her hands alarmingly, as she storms across the stage. It also remains unclear why Sarah prefers Bob to Chris.

Long’s performance contrasts sharply with that of Mark Boyd, as her psychotherapist brother Joel. Boyd appears to be a whole generation older than Long, or about the same age as Sarah’s father. His sole contribution to the play seems to be to stand and watch what is going on. By the time Boyd does get to act in the third segment of the play, the audience has to look at the play bulletin to remember who he is.

Jeffrey Sherman’s play is most poignant in Act 2, which is almost entirely a re-enactment of a Seder (the feast that marks the beginning of Passover) that combines the solemn tradition with the casual air that many reformed Jewish families bring to the experience.

Perhaps the only poignant moment in this otherwise sitcom-like play comes when Bob chokes up with emotion, as he realizes the history of this ancient tradition.

“Beau Jest” means well, and it succeeds most when addressing the more universal theme of adult daughters coming to understand and relate to their mothers as people and not just arbitrators of what is good and proper for their lives.

But does it give “Gentiles” a genuine look into the intimacies of a Jewish- American family? We should be so lucky.

‘Beau Jest’

Jeffrey Sherman Through Oct. 11 7 p.m. Wednesday & Thursday 8 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday & Third Thursday $12-$30
BoarsHead Theater, 425 S.

Grand Ave., Lansing (517) 484-7805