Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Handle with Care
Also see Jeffrey's review of Brigadoon
Set in Goodview, Virginia, during the present-day Christmas season, Handle with Care opens and remains in what first appears to be a bedroom within a home, but we quickly discover upon the entry of the characters that we are in the interior of a motel room. Liza Nash's bright and colorful set is a nice external contrast to the sadness and confusion the characters feel inside.
It isn't long before the audience becomes intimately acquainted with the inner and outer turmoil of the players. We first meet Terrence (Roderick Randle), a negligent but well-intentioned DHL driver who is flailing at life, flailing at work, and most acutely, flailing at communicating with customer Ayelet (Carmel Henschel), a woman who speaks very little English. To Terrence's dismay, he loses the coffin of Ayelet's recently departed grandmother Edna (Phyllis Spear) while transporting it in his truck. To compound his problems, he is having a hard time explaining to her what's going on because she only speaks Hebrew. To help him out with translation, Terrence calls his childhood buddy Josh (Mark Hernandez), a man who is still grieving his wife's sudden death. The only problem is Josh is out of touch with the Hebrew that he learned ages ago for his bar mitzvah. Fidgeting and fun ensue when the trio do their best to not only weather the snowstorm outside but weather the storm of anxiety and frustrations brewing from Ayelet losing her precious loved one.
Without the benefit of an animated, expressive and funny cast and the inclusion of a lot of good one-liners, it would be much more difficult for patrons of this show to hurdle some of the blips, unexplained plot details, and unbelievable situations that exist. You will have to suspend your disbelief for the good time that follows, once you realize that Ayelet, a foreigner who has just lost her family (literally and figuratively) has invited two strange men to come in and out of her motel room. Other problems include an implausible timeline between Edna's death and the loss of her body, a difference in strength, quality and execution between the scenes with Ayelet, Josh and Terrence and the scenes with Ayelet and Edna alone (the former are more effective), long moments between Ayelet and Josh that appear to be forced, fumbled lines on opening night for Randle and Spear, and a predictable ending.
Luckily, Williams has written some scenes that create romantic, heart-tugging moments and the cast work very well together under Alan Nash's direction to amuse and delight the audience. As the traveler who "talks Jewish" with Cohn's Hebrew dialogue, Henschel holds her own against actors who are many years her senior. A senior in high school, her performance as a compassionate young woman who is going through something traumatic on her own hints at a bright future. Although Terrence's character is not as developed as the others, Randle charms us with good comedic timing. He makes foolishness feel good. Hernandez' Josh is lovable, quirky and endearing. Fresh from an ensemble role in Stage Door's production of Flashdance: The Musical , Hernandez looks better in the spotlight. As the pivotal character of the show, Spear's Edna is a dreamer and lover who passes on this legacy to her granddaughter.
Handle with Care may not be perfect, but with such a short run of 11 days, there simply isn't enough time to smooth out the rough patches. However, as is, there's enough emotion, humor, and celebration of Jewish culture to keep you invested.
Levis JCC Sandler Center and Chicken Coop Theatre's production of Handle with Care, through March 18th, 2018, at Levis JCC Sandler Center located at 21050 95thAvenue South, Boca Raton FL. Show times are Thursdays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Thursdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. For tickets and information please call 561-558-2520 or visit www.levisjcc.org/sandlercenter.