Do you believe in fate? Are there outside forces in control of our lives that are beyond the realm of our understanding? Can love be the ultimate healer of all sorrow? These are the types of questions that surface in the delightful Jason Odell Williams play “Handle With Care” directed by Constance Thackaberry and being performed by Actors’ Summit at Greystone Hall in Akron.
Ayelet is a young Israeli woman traveling in Virginia with her Bubbie (grandmother), Edna, who is on a double quest. The first is to find the whereabouts of an old flame from her youth, the second to find a suitable soul mate for her grand-daughter who is recovering from a recent heart rendering breakup. While staying at a cheap motel in Goodview, Virginia Edna finds one of her answers and with that quietly passes away. It is now a race against time to get her remains back to Israel for burial before sunset of the following day. There is only one small problem, the DSX delivery van that was transporting the remains has been stolen from a gas station.
The play begins with Ayelet yelling in Hebrew at Terrence (the Chinese/American driver who only speaks southern drawl) who was responsible for delivering the remains to the airport. Enter Josh, the only Jewish friend that Terrence has who crammed just enough Hebrew class in his youth in order to have his Bar Mitzvah. His mother was Jewish and his father Catholic and both were ambivalent about religion or as he sums it up "I only saw God's top hits of high holy days". Josh is a young widower who still mourns two years after the tragic death of his young wife (a victim of a car accident). It is Christmas Eve and a blizzard has just dropped in on the area. Oh yes…I forgot to add…this is a romantic comedy.
While the storyline itself is pleasantly predicable, it is the ability of the actors to take this rather ordinary work and turn it into something extraordinary. Natalie Sander Kern hits the ground running right from the start as she yells in Hebrew at Terrence (recent “Jeopardy Golden Boy Arthur Chu).
Over the course of the play Ayelet is able to communicate with Josh (Keith E. Stevens) who must take his brain back to his Haftorah study days but whose limited command of Hebrew is just enough to enable him to understand and help. Of special note is the fact that the cast was assisted in their dialect by Hebrew Coach Oudi Singer who teaches at a variety of schools and Temples in the area. Even the broken English is given a degree of authenticity as the communication barrier is attacked.
There is a real chemistry between all the actors. There is the friendship between Terrence and Josh, the love between Ayelet and Edna and the new love that develops between Ayelet and Josh. All of it is believable. There is also a nicely done surprise twist that cements the idea of in spite of language barriers, social barriers, and tragedy if it is meant to happen, it will in spite of all the odds.
The set is one of the most ambitious that I have seen at Actors’ Summit. It is a faithful recreation of the standard dreary motel room that dots the country by the millions right down to the crummy framed artwork above the rock hard bed. The lighting was superb and the sound carried very well in the theater so that the entire dialog was easily understood.
Beefs and Flubs: The only complaint I can find for this show is that early on the characters of Terrence and Ayelet are a bit strong. They could be toned down just a little and still be effective. There is also quite a bit of overt and subtle references to Frank Capra classic movie "It's A Wonderful Life" but not enough to be too much of a distraction. As for the performance, there was nary a dropped line. The timing was quick paced and the story moved quite well right to the end.
Prude Alert: This play gets the “Squeaky Clean Seal of Approval”. There is no profanity, violence or sexual references. The death scene is handled with the proper dignity that it deserves. Bring Uncle Fern and Aunt Thelma to this one.
Shooting From The Lip (My Last Words): Although the story line is very predictable, it is the energy and skill of the actors that carries the day in this delightful morsel of escapism. Bring a friend or a loved one to share this show with. It is an unpretentious package that you will enjoy unwrapping.
Tickets for “Handle With Care” are on sale now through the box office at (330) 374-7568 and online at www.actorssummit.org. Tickets for all performances are $33 for adults, $28 for seniors over 65; and $10 for all full time students under 30.
The theater is located on the sixth floor of historic Greystone Hall, located at 103 South High Street in downtown Akron. The facility features barrier free access, free parking, and full bar service.
More information is available at the Actors’ Summit website: www.actorssummit.org.