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06 December 2011

Why Beau Jest?

Why Beau Jest

“So Sarah has this Jewish boyfriend who is neither Jewish nor her boyfriend.”

That’s the tag line I wrote for advertising materials for our production of Beau Jest. I almost added the additional tag, “Discuss.” Remember the Mike Myers Saturday Night Live skit Coffee Talk? Myers played Linda Richman, a stereotypical Jewish middle-aged woman who wears gaudy sweaters, large, dark glasses and has big hair, which she constantly adjusts. “The chickpea is neither a chick nor a pea. Discuss,” she’ll say. Or “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is neither Mormon nor a tabernacle nor a choir. Discuss.”

Beau Jest is wonderful fodder for a Linda Richman tangent. Sarah is a nice Jewish girl from a nice Jewish family who has fallen in love with a nice Christian boy. But she tells her nice Jewish parents that she’s dating a nice Jewish doctor. It’s all nice. Until her parents invite the Jewish doctor, who doesn’t exist, to Passover.

Cue Guess Who’s Coming to Seder?

Beau Jest is funny, with its convoluted-interpersonal-relationships-based-on-mistaken-identity plot line. But it also engages themes that have deeper meaning; how important is a shared religion to a relationship? And how important is a shared religion to building a cohesive and strong extended family?

According to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, more than 28 million married or cohabitating Americans - almost one quarter - are interfaith. For some, the choice between their faith, which often incorporates their family and community, and the person they love is fraught with challenges and heartache. For others an interfaith relationship represents the ultimate reconciliation ceremony; it brings together the best elements from two faiths.

On the one hand, some believe that each member of an interfaith family will hold different beliefs about deity, humanity and the rest of the universe and the result will be irresolvable conflict. On the other hand, conflict over faith can happen in an intrafaith family as well; even with a shared set of beliefs, interpretations of those beliefs can differ. Two people of the same faith can take a religious text and come up with two vastly different interpretations and each person believes that his interpretation is truth because it’s based on scripture. Irresolvable conflict.

So how important is a shared religion to building a cohesive and strong extended family?


 Krista Lang Blackwood Director of Cultural Arts
Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City