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Paulanne Simmons

"Handle With Care" Is Given
Loving Treatment by Its Cast

Carol Lawrence and Charlotte Cohn in "Handle With Care." Photo by Doug Denoff.

Handle With Care
Directed by Karen Carpenter
Westside Theatre Downstairs
407 West 43 Street
Opened Dec. 15, 2013
Tues. at 7pm. Wed. - Sat. at 8pm, Wed. & Sat. at 2pm, Sun. at 3pm
Tickets: $79 www.handlewithcaretheplay.com or (212) 239-6200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Dec. 14, 2013

Just on time for the holidays comes a charming romantic comedy by Jason Odell Williams, "Handle With Care," directed by Karen Carpenter. The play has been traveling around the country to mixed review and is now at the Westside Theatre with Carol Lawrence as the main attraction. It has a simple boy-meets-girl plot that is complicated by several factors.

The girl, Ayelet (Charlotte Cohn, wife of the playwright), is trying to relocate the corpse of her grandmother, who died in the Virginia motel where they were staying. It has been lost by a hapless DHX delivery man, Terrence (Sheffield Chastain), who calls in his friend, Josh (Jonathan Sale), a former English lit teacher at Virginia Tech, to help him out of the mess.

When Ayelet and Josh meet at the motel, it's not exactly love at first sight. For one thing, Ayelet, who had been reluctantly touring the U.S. with her grandmother, Edna (Carol Lawrence), is Israeli and cannot speak English; and Josh, who is half Jewish, cannot remember much more than a few pre-bar mitzvah words.

What's more, Ayelet is trying to recover from a romantic relationship that went sour (therefore this trip). And Josh is still suffering from the death of his wife, an event that was overshadowed by the Virginia Tech massacre, which somehow makes him feel cheated.

Although the script meanders through many unnecessary scenes and much too much dialogue in Hebrew, which few in the audience can understand, there are many tender moments in this play, particularly the scene in which Ayelet and Josh celebrate the sabbath together.

If much of the dialogue is superfluous and clunky, this production is blessed with an energetic cast and the charismatic presence of Lawrence who lights up the stage every time she appears, and manages to make even the most implausible lines ring true. Lawrence's scenes with Ayelet (who is believable and sweet) are particularly engaging and funny. And although her last scene is totally superfluous, it is a joy to see her again.

Chastain plays a generic redneck more than he plays Terrence, and he has a much too long speech about how he became a DHX employee. This speech is irrelevant to the rest of the play and is only redeemed by Chastain's gift for the absurd.

"Handle With Care" provides light entertainment and considerable warmth for the winter season, but given the nature of its plot, the script might have been bette realized with a film treatment.


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