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What’s a “nice Jewish girl” doing with a boyfriend named Chris Kringle? Vanessa Sawson is Sarah Goldman, who lives with Chris, but when her parents find out, they are appalled at her choice, referencing to him disparagingly as “Santa Claus.” Oy!
In an appropriately agitated manner, she pretends to ditch him and makes up a fantasy boyfriend who is both a doctor and Jewish.
Then she looks to an escort service to provide her with a warm body, someone to represent the boyfriend at her father’s birthday celebration.
Enter Bob, aka Dr. David Steinberg (Michael Lopetrone), an occasionally employed actor who doubles as an escort for older ladies. He’s not Jewish, but it turns out he’s a pretty good actor, improvising a Jewish persona throughout the birthday celebration, sounding more Jewish than the actual (occasionally stereotypical) American Jews.
Lopetrone has the best lines of the play, awkward situations in which he gets to be inspirationally innovative.
When the nuclear family shows up — mom, dad, and a psychotherapist brother — they are delighted with Dr. Steinberg, not realizing his extensive knowledge of Jewish culture comes almost entirely from an actor’s immersion in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
A second visit ensues, unveiling a raucous Seder. It invites the audience to witness and understand the historic significance of the event, but also how families handle this history with an internal sense of lightheartedness.
Lopretone dazzle-dances his way through this scene, impressing the family and the audience.
Sandra Birch is Miriam Goldberg, the mother. Her overbearing manner borders on the exaggerative, but never takes it too far. The mother-and-daughter dynamics are laughable, and familiar to men and women — but especially to mothers and daughters.
Fred Buchalter is dear old dad, Abe. He’s the salt of the earth, an elder, plodding curmudgeon, with somewhat fragile health. Buchhalter handles this role well, with affectations and embellishments that create a warm and loving character.
David Wolber as the real boyfriend, Chris, and Patrick Loos, as little brother/psychotherapist Joel, have minor roles in this tender comedy, but portray their characters with artful grace. Loos, in particular, in Act Two, professionally navigates the tricky triangulation of mediation, bridging the inevitable conflicts that arise when parents find out the truth.
Wolber’s portrayal of Chris presents the odd man out in this seriocomic drama, a fish out of water who sweats impotent exasperation when things do not go his way. Wolber stalks, paces and throws up his hands to no avail, but his frustration is both understandable and authentically played.
Director Tony Casselli has added some creative elements to staging, transitioning from one scene to another by half-lighting the stage and having actors come in and leave, miming hellos and goodbyes in speed dial. This is enhanced by John Lepard’s Klezmer-inspired histrionic sound design.
Friday night’s “Beau Jest” performance ended with a lengthy, rousing standing ovation and was followed by a lingering crowd of chatty, pleased attendees.
“Beau Jest” Continues through Dec. 23 Williamston Theater 122 S. Putnam Street, Williamston Tickets available at (517) 655-7469 For show times, visit williamstontheatre.org