Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
I am very happy to report that the overall quality of this production far exceeds the two Summer Sizzler shows I covered last year. Those suffered badly from budgetary restraints and required a great deal of indulgence from the audience. This production is much more representative of the best that The Players is capable of offering.
The play has a notable history, including a film version that starred Lainie Kazan, and it has been produced fairly regularly. James Sherman is also the author of The God of Isaac, produced last summer at Florida Studio Theatre. Beau Jest is about a Jewish familymy people, but family stories are universal. The production gains a great deal of authenticity from having two Jewish actors in the roles of the parents and a Jewish director, but it speaks to parents and children of any ethnic group. It is warmly funny, Neil Simon light.
The story centers on Sarah, a Jewish kindergarten teacher, who is dating Chris Kringle, a handsome yuppie type, not Jewish. She tells her parents that she has broken it off with Chris, but she continues to see him. Mom fixes her up with Jewish men and, in order to gain some control of her dating life, Sarah tells her that she has met Mr. Right, a doctor. Mom and Dad press to meet him, so she hires actor/escort Bob to portray Dr. David. Add into this mix brother Joel, a psychiatrist.
Samantha Hall portrays Sarah warmly, capturing the Jewish essence in the character. Jesse Rosenfeld is Bob/David in a nice performance that I can relate to, an actor pulling everything he knows or wants to know from his musical theater knowledge. There is a wonderful aw shucks quality in his portrayal, making the idea of Sarah falling for him reasonable. Sarah Logan and David Meyersburg are parents Miriam and Abe. Ms. Logan gives a delightful performance of a slightly stereotypical Jewish mother. Mr. Meyersburg expertly rattles off Hebrew prayers; if it isn't enough to get the Sabbath ones perfect, he outdoes himself with perfect prayers over Passover Seder bitter herbs. Jeffery Cima is fine as brother Joel, who can't stop being a therapist, especially in his act two confrontation with Sarah. Anthony Spall has a thankless role as Chris, but he fills it very handsomely.
Carol Kleinberg turns out to be the perfect director for this piece. She manages a very nice balance between the family dynamics so strongly a part of families, Jewish ones especially, and the comedy of mistaken identities. She gets fine performances from all her actors and turns a minor play into an entertaining evening. She is aided by a really nice set by Jeffrey Weber, although in truth I wondered a couple of times how a kindergarten teacher's salary could cover such luxurious digs. Still, better this than the collection of pieces grabbed from the theater's collections that made do last summer. Tim Beltley's costumes suggest that this comedy is not current but a throwback to the late 1970s or early 1980s, which is consistent with a few plot points. He is able to have the characters change outfits from scene to scene, another improvement in the overall quality of the production. The rest of the technical elements, lighting design by Owen Leonard, Ken Junkins' technical direction, and props by Carole Goff, are all solid.
The Players should have a nice hit on their hands with this fine production.
Beau Jest runs through June 25, 2017, at The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL. Box Office: 941-365-2494. For more information visit www.theplayers.org.