Handle with Care

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Photograph: Doug Denoff
Handle with Care
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Photograph: Doug Denoff
Handle with Care
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Photograph: Doug Denoff
Handle with Care
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Photograph: Doug Denoff
Handle with Care
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Photograph: Doug Denoff
Handle with Care
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Photograph: Doug Denoff
Handle with Care

Handle with Care. Westside Theatre (see Off Broadway). By Jason Odell Williams. Directed by Karen Carpenter. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 50mins. One intermission.

Handle with Care: in brief

Carol Lawrence, who played Maria in the original 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story, returns to the musical stage in a romantic comedy about a young Israeli woman who falls for an American man while visiting the U.S. with her grandmother. Karen Carpenter directs.

Handle with Care: theater review by David Cote

Jason Odell Williams’s forced and awkwardly paced mix of sitcom-level farce, intergenerational schmaltz and cross-cultural romance tells the story of two Israeli tourists in small-town America looking for love. Actually, one of them is looking for love; the other finds it accidentally. Replete with language barriers and cultural misunderstandings, it’s your basic gefilte-fish-out-of-water tale.

Recently heartbroken Ayelet (Charlotte Cohn) stops at a rural Virginia motel with her spunky grandmother, Edna (Carol Lawrence), around Christmastime. Edna has a secret agenda, one that involves an American from her distant past. Told partly in the flashback, the plot plunges into tasteless slapstick when we learn that Edna died the day before. Her body was due to be shipped back to Israel, but the van—and her body—were stolen. Gooberish delivery hick Terrence (Sheffield Chastain) dragoons the one Jewish guy he knows, Josh (Jonathan Sale), to translate, since Ayelet (improbably) barely speaks English. Cue meeting cute with mangled English and Hebrew.

The actors do their best with material weighed down by contrivance and clunky one-liners. Lawrence (a Broadway trouper from way back) endows Edna with disarming zest, and Charlotte Cohn and Jonathan Sale find sparks of chemistry amid the rom-com cheese. As a safe diversion for the holidays, Handle with Care will serve if you need to curry favor with that visiting nana. Just don’t expect any nutritional value from such a sickly-sweet confection.—Theater review by David Cote

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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Phil G

Lame, forced, banal, insipid. The actors were good, but they had very little with which to work. We left at halftime. You can save yourself time and money by just passing this up.