By D. A. Blackburn
Lansing’s BoarsHead Theater has seen some tremendous changes over the past several months – new artistic and administrative leadership, and a new landlord among them–and though these things have been hot topics of discussion, the opening night of the company’s 2009-2010 season made one old adage abundantly clear: The more things change, the more they stay the same. And in this case, it’s a very good thing, because BHT’s “Beau Jest” is definitive proof that change has not come at the expense of quality theater.
In the simplest terms, “Beau Jest” is a smartly cast, elegantly directed (by Charles Burr), beautiful production of an excellent script. It is, at once, funny and heartwarming, and filled with characters that feel strikingly genuine, even while woven into a plot that seems farcical. As romantic comedies go, “Beau Jest” showcases some of the best writing within the genre.
Despite its title, James Sherman’s delicious script pays no homage to its pseudo-namesake, P. C. Wren’s “Beau Geste.” Instead, it plays upon the French slang phrase “Beau Geste,” which implies that even the best gesture can bring about unexpected or undesirable results.
Sarah Goldman (Allie Long) has a problem. She’s in love with a gentile (J. D. De La Ossa), and her parents (Dorry Peltyn and Tim Jacobs) don’t approve. They want her to settle down with a nice Jewish boy, and have set about finding her the perfect man. To put a stop to their well-intended meddling, Sarah announces that she’s stopped dating Chris, and found the – all too perfect – Jewish boyfriend they’ve hoped for.
There is just one problem: He doesn’t exist. So Sarah does what any good girl would do. She hires an actor-turned-escort (Nathan M. Hosner) to play the part at Passover dinner. And – despite the fact that he’s not even Jewish – they just might pull it off, if Sarah’s inquisitive brother Joel (Mark Boyd) and the love-struck Chris don’t ruin the ruse. And those unintended consequences for trying to put her aging parents at ease? Well, they’re part of the fun.
Sherman’s premise is a bit far flung, but his terrific ability to write likable characters and Burr’s inspired direction make it easy to suspend disbelief. Craig Mitchell Smith’s realistic set also helps to bring a touch of the everyday to the work.
BoarsHead’s cast performs as a tight ensemble should – evenly, charismatically, and with true understanding of their character’s motives. And though all involved give good showings, it’s Long and Hosner who turn in the best performances. Both create characters with the types of subtle but necessary mannerisms that make them seem genuine, believable and, ultimately, jarringly funny.
Hosner’s deft work, performing two characters simultaneously – those of Bob the escort and David the faux-boyfriend – is integral to the success of this production, and to his credit, “Beau Jest” is a delight.
So even on the heels of a tumultuous summer, and sweeping change, the BoarsHead looks poised to deliver another fine season.
BoarsHead Theater, 425 S. Grand Ave., Lansing. Wednesday-Sunday through Oct. 11. $12-$30. 517-484-7805. http://www.boarshead.org