By: Sandi Durell
Nothing like an old fashioned romantic comedy with a twist – a holiday happening and it’s now at the West Side Theatre in Jason Odell Williams’ “Handle With Care,” with icon Carol Lawrence (original Maria in West Side Story) as the bubby who just wants to make everything good for her Israeli granddaughter Ayelet (a very convincing Charlotte Cohen). Only it’s not quite that simple.
Granny has taken her beloved Ayelet on a tour of America, by car, through some of the least known regions on her own personal quest. But for all intent and purposes, it’s to help Ayelet forget her own recent romantic loss. And so we find them in a dingy motel room somewhere in Virginia on Christmas Eve. We learn everything in flashbacks going back and forth between Dec. 23rd and Dec. 24th. Maybe there’s a message here since it’s all about Jewish folks on a Christian holiday.
The opening, however, finds a distraught, only Hebrew speaking, Ayelet trying to communicate with a dim-witted delivery guy Terrence (a kooky Sheffield Chastain) who is beside himself having lost a body on its way to the airport when his van was stolen because he left his keys inside. That body happens to be her beloved grandmother. They can’t communicate, she keeps screaming at him, which provides some good laughs, and Terrence calls on a friend who, because he’s Jewish, Terrence thinks can speak with Ayelet and find out what she’s saying.
The friend, Josh (a sweet and caring Jonathan Sale), has recently lost his wife in a car accident, knows a few Hebrew words – “Shalom” – and the dance of romance begins.
While the search continues for granny’s body, love blooms – with a lot of hand gestures and a couple of Hebrew and English words they both understand.
Ms. Lawrence has her shining moments and her secrets are revealed in Act 2 but what is perplexing in this banal play, however, is why the lovely Carol Lawrence would want to be a part of it? She’s still vibrant, animated and beautiful at 82, a good actor and it’s delightful finally seeing her on stage, but . . . what was the big attraction here?
Oh well . . .
“Handle With Care” at the West Side Theatre/Downstairs, 407 W. 43 St. (9/10 Aves), NYC. Directed by Karen Carpenter. Runs thru Feb. 23rd. One hour, 45 minutes w/intermission.
*Photos: Doug Denoff