|L-R: Jonathan Sale, Sheffield Chastain, Carol Lawrence, and Charlotte Cohn in HANDLE WITH CARE.|
What may appear as “happenstance” or “coincidence” to one individual well may be seen by another as “fate” or “destiny.” Or, what is known in Yiddish as “b’shert” - at least in regard to one’s divinely fore-ordained spouse or soul-mate.
Ayelet (Charlotte Cohn) had little desire to accompany her grandmother Edna (Carol Lawrence) on a trip to America but she really had no good reason not to. She had been relatively depressed for the last year, ever since her boyfriend Haguy left her, and she had been dreaming of her own “b‘shert” – who looked nothing like anyone she had ever met before. So why not make her “safta” (grandmother) happy and go along with her? It might even give Ayelet a chance to see the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument.
But Edna, it seemed, had other ideas. This was not to be a trip to see the sights in New York or Washington. No, it was to be a trip from one tawdry motel in one God-forsaken town in Virginia to another – from Roanoke to Goodview - never staying in any one for more than a day or two and sometimes for no more than a few hours. Why Edna chose to stay at the motels she did wasn’t immediately clear - although all did seem to be located in proximity to Food Lions’ supermarkets.
As it turned out, Edna ended up getting less out of her trip than she had bargained for. Not only did she never find whatever or whomever she may have been seeking, but then, just to add insult to injury, she upped and died. That, as you might imagine, was something of a downer for Ayelet as well – but then Ayelet got more than she bargained for.
In attempting to arrange for the return of Edna’s body to Israel for burial, Ayelet makes the mistake of retaining the services of Terrence (Sheffield Chastain), a good-hearted but bumbling deliveryman employed by DHX who immediately “loses” Edna’s body. Confronted by a crisis over which he feels he has no control, Terrence enlists the aid of his childhood friend, Josh (Jonathan Sale), to extricate him from his predicament. And so Josh, who is still mourning the loss of his wife in an automobile accident more than a year ago (and who, despite being Jewish, speaks little Hebrew himself) is thrown together with Ayelet (who speaks little English) and matters take a turn for the better. How difficult, after all, can it be to resolve linguistic differences for a God capable of stretching out a day’s worth of oil for eight days or precipitating a virgin birth?
Handle With Care by Jason Odell Williams, currently playing at The Westside Theatre Downstairs on West 43rd Street in midtown Manhattan, is a slight and rather predictable, but nonetheless entertaining, comedic love story that, apropos of this holiday season of miracles, does just that: it resolves the mystery of Edna’s quest and brings love to the lovelorn – and all in a manner that some might say was truly miraculous or even “b’shert.” (Others, of course, might still contend that the play’s subsequent miraculous turn of events wasn’t a matter of fate or destiny at all but rather was an example of mere coincidence, but then, what do they know: there’ll always be some spoilsports, non-believers and Grinches among us.)
Not surprisingly, the legendary and Tony-nominated Carol Lawrence is absolutely delightful as Edna, the Israeli grandmother, torn between her own nostalgia and her love for her granddaughter. Charlotte Cohn is equally good in a very demanding role requiring her to transition rapidly and seamlessly from Hebrew to English and back again. Sheffield Chastain plays the most comedic role of Terrence with great physicality and Jonathan Sale conveys a wide range of emotions from grief to joy and from irritability to dismay with professional flair. All in all, the play may be inconsequential but it is fun.