Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka on stage in New Theatre's 'Beau Jest'
Nobody wants to see groundbreaking performance art after a nice buffet.
That’s the operating principle of all dinner theaters and is probably why their productions usually feature former sitcom stars. The audience is basically settling in to watch TV after dinner.
Which explains the popularity of “Beau Jest,” James Sherman’s goodhearted comedy that premiered in 1989 and stayed there. With its stereotyped characters and farcical plot, it could almost be a “Nanny” episode.
Sarah Goldman (Jennifer Mays) is a young Chicagoan whose parents want her to find a Jewish husband and settle down. Played by the show’s headliners, “Laverne & Shirley” vets Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka, the Goldmans are loving but pushy and completely unable to handle Sarah’s WASP boyfriend (Seth Macchi).
Since honesty doesn’t generate enough laughs, Sarah pretends to be dating a doctor named David Steinberg and hires escort/actor Bob Schroeder (Craig Benton) to play the role for one family dinner. She obviously hasn’t thought the plan through — poor Bob doesn’t even know he’s supposed to be a doctor — and when she starts falling for Bob/David, the ruse gets even more absurd.
The script doesn’t do anyone any favors, forcing the actors to wring laughs out of forehead-slapping stupidity. They do so surprisingly well, especially Benton, a New Theatre regular who gets the best material and makes the most of it. Watching Bob fake his way through a Seder almost compensates for the fact that nobody realizes he’s faking. He even sells the claim that he operates on “hearts and brains,” which otherwise wouldn’t fool a 12-year-old.
Williams and Mekka have the tough job of making you love their prickly, none-too-bright characters, and this is why performers with their background do so well in shows like this. Only experienced pros can charm their way past the Goldmans’ clueless kvetching, and these two make it look much easier than it could possibly be.
Their timing never falters, and they play to the crowd without mugging. More importantly, they genuinely seem to enjoy working together, which smooths over a lot of rough spots.
“Beau Jest” takes place on a single set and is relatively short (the intermissions are almost as long as the show), adding to the filmed-before-a-live-studio-audience feel. It’s cozy and unchallenging, so if that’s the mood you’re in, you have until July to check it out.
Just don’t wear your comfy slippers. There is a dress code.
“Beau Jest” runs through July 3 at New Theatre Restaurant, 9229 Foster St., Overland Park. Tickets are $34-$56 through NewTheatre.com. The show runs about two hours with two intermissions.