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Not Enough Jest in Revival of Sherman Comedy

September 13, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CYPRESS — As well as James Sherman's "Beau Jest" is crafted, it can fool a director. Like most comedies, it all looks so simple.

In her staging of this Cypress Civic Theatre revival of "Beau Jest," director Susan Marx lets the play rest on its own merits. There is little sense of tempo, and the rhythms from scene to scene are maintained on one level.

Marx also often forgets that this is a comedy, even in its most serious moments. She gets all the obvious laughs, but few of those subtle ones left to be revealed by performance, and timing.

The play's story, another retelling of the ethnic conflicts stated in the hit play "Abie's Irish Rose," is pretty familiar territory. It's about a Jewish girl who tries to hide from her parents that she's dating a Gentile by hiring a paid escort to impersonate her new "nice Jewish doctor boyfriend." The escort, an actor making extra bucks, is also a Gentile but has picked up a few tricks from productions of "Cabaret" and "Fiddler on the Roof." The parents love him.

Each of the three acts takes place at a dinner--including a Seder--at Sarah's apartment. It's at the Seder that the heaviness of Marx's staging is most obvious. The rite is treated with great respect but gets none of the laughs Sherman has carefully planted behind the father's boredom with the ritual, the mother's schoolgirl excitement at each step, the daughter's discomfort and the escort's uneasy success at being believably Jewish. The scene is unleavened, like the matzos.


The unshapely staging doesn't keep the actors from trying their best, just leaves them without a framework. Melinda Zommick is very good, sensitive and charming, as Sarah, the daughter, even though Marx allows her to tread too heavily at highly emotional moments. The same thing happens to David Araujo, as Sarah's divorced therapist brother Joel, unaware that restraint is one of the keys to playing comedy.

Ray Galletti is most solid as the escort, whose last name sounds Jewish, but isn't. His subtlety works fine throughout, and he has a valid comic sense. Ross Hamilton, as the jilted original Gentile boyfriend, doesn't have much to do, but does it in fine style, as does Ruth Siegall as Sarah's stereotypical Jewish mother, whose pushiness hasn't a hint of obnoxiousness, only concern and affection. As the father, Manny Siegall never goes beyond the script, and doesn't find all his big laughs.


* "Beau Jest," Cypress Civic Theatre, 5172 Orange Ave., Cypress. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Sept. 27. $10. (714) 229-6796. Running time: 2 hours.

Melinda Zommick: Sarah

Ross Hamilton: Chris

Ray Galletti: Bob/David

David Araujo: Joel

Ruth Siegall: Miriam

Manny Siegall: Abe

A Cypress Civic Theatre production of James Sherman's comedy. Produced by Sue McClanahan. Directed by Susan Marx. Scenic design: Craig Harreld, Brian Sunley, George W. George. Lighting/sound design: George W. George. Stage manager: Debbie Sturt.

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