WHAT “Beau Jest”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and next Thursday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through May 7, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson
TICKETS $15-$30; 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com
Not to be confused with “Beau Geste,” the 1924 novel and subsequent movie versions starring Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper, “Beau Jest” has nothing to do with French Foreign Legion valor. Domestic valor? Well, that’s another story.
James Sherman’s 1991 comedy by way of Chicago, which enjoyed a 2½-year Off-Broadway run, receives a wireless update at Theatre Three, where director Mary Powers finds a timeless pulse in a play about the folly of trying to please your family without pleasing yourself.
Sarah Goldman considers herself a nice Jewish girl who’s courting heresy in the form of an itching-to-marry goyfriend. Her culturally observant if not particularly religious Jewish parents disapprove. His in-your-face Christian name, Chris Kringle, doesn’t help. So Sarah hires Bob, an underemployed actor, to play the role of her new boyfriend, Dr. David Steinberg, while she figures out how to reintroduce Santa Claus.
Randall Parsons’ living/dining room set with dowdy props by Linda May is a character unto itself, bespeaking Sarah’s parent-reflecting taste with dated furnishings. The only 21st century concession — remember, “Jest” premiered in the last millennium — is that the cell replaces the landline. It’s an apt running joke that the digitally deprived parents circle Sarah’s apartment for hours seeking parking refuge.
As Sarah, Jenna Kavaler is an emotional wreck pleading for rescue. Her boyfriend, beleaguered Steven Uihlein, is none too keen about her break-up-to-make-up scheme. The actor Sarah hires shows up expecting an innocent escort-service gig — taking an old lady to the opera. Minutes before her parents and brother arrive, Bob informs Sarah that he’s not Jewish either. But he’s picked up enough from playing in “Fiddler on the Roof” and dealing with his father’s ailments that he fakes being both Jewish and a surgeon.
Brett Chizever as Bob / Dr. Steinberg is comically nonplausible in the role of the adept actor and would-be interloper who fools an audience as willingly gullible as Sarah’s parents, engagingly played by Ginger Dalton and Bob Kaplan in thanklessly clichéd roles. More problematic is that brother Joel, a therapist played with skeptical distance by Scott Joseph Butler, isn’t onto the fraud sooner.
But who cares? This Passover gift, following Theatre Three’s Easter musical “Godspell” on this year’s split lunar calendar, offers a zesty chopped-liver excuse to share a vicarious seder laugh or two.