WEST JORDAN — Taking a chance on a lesser known straight play put on by a small playhouse may seem daunting, but sometimes it just pays off. This was the case for many who attended Sugar Factory Playhouse’s Beau Jest in West Jordan. Although the location and size of the playhouse may cause a first-timer like me to pause, the quaint appeal of the venue and a detailed set help showcase the coziness of the show, instead of focusing on the cramped.

Show closes April 1, 2023.

Beau Jest is a romantic comedy written by James Sherman. It centers on Sarah Goldman, a Jewish woman in her twenties who is dating a non-Jewish man, much to the disappointment of her parents. In order to keep her parents off her back, she hires an actor to pretend to be her Jewish boyfriend who can accompany her to dinner with at parents’ home. As would be expected, only chaos ensues, providing ripe opportunities for hilarious misunderstanding and conflict. However, the script of the show is more than just a witty comedy, as it touches on universal themes of
tradition, family connections, and enduring happiness. While most of the characters may be Jewish, their values and relationships transcend culture.

Director Michelle Groves places a great emphasis on helping the actors accurately represent their Jewish characters in their scenes where they speak Hebrew and perform Jewish customs. While the consistency of these portrayals sometimes vary throughout the show, it is impressive to hear the local actors speaking Hebrew and Yiddish so fluently. Groves also attempts to handle the  challenge of space, including sightlines and staging distance, as the stage is already cramped. There are a few moments where a character is blocked by another actor. However, the movement of the play is often dynamic enough to not linger on the moment too long.

Bryn Campbell, who plays Sarah, is a delight to watch and listen to, as her facial expressions and physical comedy endeared me to her character. Moreover, her singing voice cascades upon the ears in an other-worldly tone as she blesses the food in a Yiddish prayer. Additionally, Marinda Maxfield, who plays the loud Miriam Goldman, commands the stage with such ease that I never wanted her to leave. She and Mark Fotheringham (who plays her husband Abe) share many scenes where their characters delightfully squabble and bicker from years of marriage. Both Maxfield and Fotheringham show their talent by making these scenes so realistic I wondered if they were actually married. Jesse Hancock, who plays Sarah’s big brother Joel, has a great balance of annoying older brother and diligent son. While sometimes Hancock struggles to land his lines, Joel teases Sarah in playful moments of physical comedy often made me laugh.

Aaron Allred, playing boyfriend Chris, tries his best to give an endearing and sincere performance to an outdated character clearly written in the ’80s. Allred’s earnestness as he attempts to help Sarah distracts from the flaws in his character. The same can be said about the writing for Bob, the actor (played Rickey Jewkes), as both characters become significantly less likeable in the second act, due to toxic implications surrounding their relationships with Sarah. However, Jewkes occupies the stage with charm as he seduces the family into believing he is Jewish, thus convincing the audience of his skill as well.

All the actors in Beau Jest clearly give their full effort to their performances and invite the audience to take a walk in their shoes through these comically uncomfortable situations. The cast also takes lots of time to move the set and props in between each scene, and it is a charming sight to see.

The technical team also made important contributions that made Beau Jest work. Vic Groves and Mike Burgoyne’s set smartly use of levels in a space as tight as that theatre. The realistic set’s back wall faded into the theater’s wall, which helped to make the small playhouse feel like Sarah’s house and like the audience was just a part of the family. Director Michelle Groves doubled as the propmaster and ensured that every prop, from the pink cord phone to each shiny piece of silverware, was accurate and appropriate in every detail.

The playhouse correctly markets this play as “A comedy about the entire family” instead of for the entire family. While many older members of the audience seemed to connect splendidly with the bickering of the parents about what day of the week they saw a specific neighbor, younger audience members struggled to stay engaged the entire time. For example, two young boys in the same row as me quickly lost interest in whether the boyfriend was a heart or brain doctor and found a more enjoyable experience playing with the folding chair in front of them.

It is easy to see why Beau Jest is a classic comfort play for many people. It makes me want to just want to curl up in a cozy sweater and laugh. The Sugar Factory Playhouse makes a valiant effort to bring all parts of Beau Jest to life and provide an enduring fond memory to all audiences who see it.

The Sugar Factory Playhouse production of Beau Jest plays nightly (except Sundays) at 7:30 PM through April 1 at Pioneer Hall (1137 West 7800 South, West Jordan). Tickets are $8-12. For more information, visit https://www.wjarts.org/sugar-factory-playhouse.

These reviews are made possible by a grant from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks program.