Theater Review: Handle With Care

Michael Zlabinger and Anat Cogan. Photo by Mathew Holler
Michael Zlabinger and Anat Cogan. Photo by Mathew Holler
Dennis Maley
Jason Odell Williams' Handle with Care is a tight and smart romantic comedy that is sure to appeal to a broad audience. It opened Friday at the Florida Studio Theatre and runs through March 8. 

Ayelet and her grandmother are on a mysterious pilgrimage from Israel to the U.S., though their tour of the states sticks to oddly lackluster sites. In a sort of dark comedy premise, Ayelet's path intersects with a dufus of a DHL driver, Terrence, and his much more together though recently-widowed friend, Josh.

Set on Christmas Eve, it's a touching story sure to tug on the heartstrings of any romantic, particularly if they have a healthy appreciation for fatalism. Directed by Jason Cannon, FST's production is well cast with Israeli actress Anat Cogan giving an immensely-poignant performance as Ayelet that is seared into recollection.

New York-based actor Mat Leonard plays Terrence, a hapless delivery driver who has "misplaced" a very important package of Ayelet's. To further complicate the situation, she doesn't speak any English. To remedy the last part, Terrence brings in his Jewish friend Josh, whose Hebrew is limited to a few words he learned in religious classes as a kid.

A language barrier is not only an easy dynamic from which to mine comedy but a ripe basis for romantic conflict, likely zeroing in on deeply-ingrained appreciation of communicating such notions as an attraction, without the benefit of spoken words. Long before we were world travelers, after all, humans spent millennia after millennia negotiating such topics without the benefit of a spoken language, and we still clearly have a soft spot for such endeavors.

Williams sets the play a decade back, continuing a trend in which writers seem to be seeking to avoid the element of story that can be challenged by smartphones and constant access to the internet and apps like Google Translate that eliminate many traditional sources of conflict that can move a story along. Instead of the "no-service" trick, we see characters flipping open their Razors to indicate a slightly earlier time and place.

Michael Zlabinger's Josh is just straight-laced and understated enough to play well comedically off of Leonard's over-the-top Terrence, while matching the vulnerability of Cogan's Ayelet. Marina Re also does a wonderful job as Ayelet's grandmother, Edna. 

Overall, Handle With Care is a lovely way to spend an evening this time of year, providing the sort of light and whimsical entertainment that makes for perfect holiday fare. Visit the FST website for ticket info.

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