‘Beau Jest’ tickles the funny bone

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LEWISTON — “Beau Jest” is pure fun.

It’s a rollicking, laugh-a-minute play and the audience roared from beginning to end at The Public Theatre on opening night, May 6. There are six more performances of “Beau Jest” on May 12-15.

Cliches about Jewish families and customs abound in “Beau Jest,” and that’s the play’s strong point. It pokes fun at parents who try to influence their daughter’s marriage options and a daughter who goes to extremes to please them.

Director Janet Mitchko noted that the plot could be interchangeable with just about any cultural background. She sees similarities with Franco-American situations that could be familiar to local audience members.

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Sarah Goldman, played by Sarah Corey, is dating a young man who is not Jewish. In fact, his name is Chris Kringle. Her mother and father are not happy with the relationship, so Sarah tells them she broke up with Chris and has a new beau. He’s a doctor, she tells her parents, and they will meet him at a dinner at Sarah’s Chicago apartment.

In fact, Sarah has hired an actor to play her new boyfriend, and she quickly briefs Bob on his unusual role just minutes before the arrival of parents Abe and Miriam, and Sarah’s brother, Joel.

Bob, played by Damon Bonetti, shocks Sarah with the news that he, too, is not Jewish. No problem, he says. After all, he has been in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Corey and Bonetti are making their first appearances at TPT.

Much of the action in “Beau Jest” takes place around the dinner table. That’s where Bob comes up with some remarkable saves as he brings in all the unlikely details he has learned about Jewish customs.

Bill Van Horn, a veteran of area theater appearances, gives a great performance as Sarah’s father. His full-volume bluster in “Beau Jest” is balanced with sincere concern for his daughter’s welfare, and the nonstop predictable bickering between Abe and his wife is evidence of their rock-solid relationship.

Van Horn’s extensive stage credits include Lazar Wolf in a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” at The Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. He is also heard as the voice of Jasha Heifitz in a documentary film, “God’s Fiddler.” Marina Re is excellent as Miriam. She has been seen in TPT productions of “Broadway Bound,” “Rumors” and “Deathtrap.” She holds her own in all the scenes with head-strong Abe Goldman.

Doug Shapiro appears as Joel, who early in the play sits back and carefully observes, but his suspicions about a charade grow stronger. He eventually helps Sarah, Bob, Chris and his parents sort the whole thing out.

Chris is played by Brian White, who brings some good comic characterization to the confused boyfriend caught in the middle. This is his first performance at TPT.

The delight in this comedy is watching Sarah’s surprise as Bob comes up with his quick-witted Jewish impersonation. The seder dinner provides a hilarious scene where Bob follows her cues, and makes a few unexpected contributions of his own.

It’s also a lot of fun to see how Bob throws in bits of knowledge to support his make-believe medical credentials.

The plot and dialogue of “Beau Jest” draw on recognizable Jewish attributes that Mitchko’s deft direction presents as familiar circumstance rather than stereotype. Rabbi Hillel Katzir of Temple Shalom in Auburn assisted as technical adviser.

This is a show suitable for the whole family.

Sarah’s attractive Chicago apartment is designed by Amber Callahan. Lighting is by Bart Garvey, and costumes are by Kathleen Brown.

James Sherman wrote “Beau Jest” in 1989 and he directed a film of his play, released in 2008 with Lainie Kazan and Tony Daly in the cast.

Remaining shows

WHAT: “Beau Jest”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, May May 12-13; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 14; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 15

WHERE: The Public Theatre, 31 Maple Street, Lewiston

TICKETS: $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, $5 for youth under 18. Call 782-3200.

This is a three-act play, so audiences have an extra intermission in which to check out items in TPT’s annual silent auction in the lobby. There is also a raffle for Red Sox tickets.

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