“Will I see you at shul?”
“…Spent $200 for Christmas.”
“The name’sunder Menachem O’Malley.”
Voices slipping in and out of Hebrew and English, filled up the lobby of the Westside Theatre,where the audience was waiting to see “Handle With Care,” the new off-Broadway play by Jason Odell Williams.
Little did they know that art was about to imitate life.
As men in kippot settled into their chairs, secular Christmas music played over the loudspeakers. The houselights dimmed, and an Israeli woman stormed across the stage, haranguing an American man sporting a thick Virginian drawl. Apparently the American, Terrence, misplaced the casket bearing the body of Ayelet’s safta. Enter Josh, a widower adrift from his family and his faith, to help translate with his best haftorah Hebrew. And let the rom-com begin.
The story unfolds in split time: in the present, we watch as Ayelet and Josh stumble towards understanding; in the past, we watch (and listen in English substituting for Hebrew) the last night Ayelet spent with her safta, Edna.
The cast of four blends well, with Charlotte Cohn’s Ayelet as a real stand-out as she navigates two languages, tugging at our heartstrings in both. Jonathan Sale as Josh is a natural charmer, Sheffield Chastain as the bumbling Terrence revels in his caricature of a character, and Carol Lawrence (the original Maria from West Side Story) shines as the sprightly safta.
The direction by Karen Carpenter is serviceable—hampered slightly by the inclusion of a motel bed that forces the actors to stay mostly downstage, however her use of stage snow and sound effects create a miraculous holiday atmosphere.
Williams script, while at times a bit heavy-handed in remedial Hebrew, nevertheless leaves the audience delighted (and at one point audibly “aww-ing”).
“Handle With Care” is the story of the beauty in tragedy, the rekindling of faith, and realizing that you’re found in translation.
Emily C. A. Snyder is an internationally published and produced playwright, whose work has been seen from Christchurch, New Zealand to Dublin, Ireland. Her five-act iambic pentameter play, “Cupid and Psyche ~ A New Play in Blank Verse” will be produced off-Broadway for Valentine’s 2014. She is a member of the staff of The Jewish Week.