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Smart Revival Keeps 'Beau Jest's' Humor Fresh

April 30, 1999|PHILIP BRANDES

What's a nice Jewish girl to do when her very traditional parents disapprove of her penchant for dating non-Jewish men? Why, hire an actor to portray the ideal boyfriend at a family gathering, of course. Wouldn't anyone?

Thanks to an impeccably cast ensemble, a smartly paced Actors Alley revival of James Sherman's 1991 romantic comedy "Beau Jest," at El Portal, sells this amiable if formulaic premise.

Particularly effective is the growing chemistry between Carol Keis as Sarah, the neurotic boyfriend-shopping heroine, and David Mingrino as Bob, the paid escort who surpasses her wildest expectations. Unfortunately, his Jewish heritage is limited to a road production of "Fiddler."

Len Lesser, who can draw laughs with a preparatory shrug before he even utters a punch line, is letter-perfect as the patriarchal merchant driven to distraction by his daughter's antics. Supporting performances from Alan Altshuld, Laura James and Ron Reynolds strike exactly the right notes, respectively, as Sarah's therapist brother, guilt-dispensing mother and reluctant ex-boyfriend.

Staged with obvious affection by Jeremiah Morris, "Beau Jest" harks back to a warmer style of character-based comedy in short supply these days. Time may have overtaken its "topical" references--to "the Carson show" and "St. Elsewhere," for example--but in the right hands this script proves it still has plenty of appeal, especially to fans of Borscht Belt humor.

*

* "Beau Jest," El Portal Center Studio Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends June 13. $16. (818) 508-4200. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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