HANDLE WITH CARE

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Theatre Jacksonville opened its final show of 2013 with Jason Odell Williams romantic comedy “Handle With Care.” This is the North Florida premier of this play and in fact the New York Off Broadway opening is in previews right now for a December 15th debut. Tony Award Winner Carol Lawrence (from West Side Story) is the featured actress for the NYC opening.
The play is set in an older motel room, clean, but with dated furnishings and a steam radiator, in Goodview, Virginia, a suburb of Roanoke. The opening scene has a young Jewish Israeli woman, Ayelet, who speaks almost no English, in a conversation with a DHL delivery man, Terrence about a lot box containing the dead body of her grandmother, Edna. Of course, they do not have a meeting of the minds since neither can communicate. Terrance calls up his longtime best friend Josh, who happens to be Jewish, for help to talk with this confused girl, but unfortunately when Josh arrives the only two words he can recall for his childhood Hebrew lessons are ‘Shalom’ and ‘Manischewitz.’ Josh and Ayelet use sign language, hand gestures, and a Hebrew/English dictionary to somewhat communicate. Meanwhile, Terrance has been convinced to call the police to find the truck that has the coffin with Edna’s body, due to be shipped back to Israel.
As the first scene ends, as an audience two questions came to mind. What were Ayelet and Edna doing in America? How did Edna die?
Now we have already established that our visitors do not speak English, so it is somewhat of a shock when we see Edna and Ayelet arrive at this motel the day before in a flashback scene and they are speaking English. Well, of course, if they spoke Hebrew a great portion of the audience would not have been able to understand the storyline. We just pretended we had one of those new voice activated tablets that could translate instantly from Hebrew to English. We learned from grandma Edna that she has planned this trip with her granddaughter to help her get over a recent romantic breakup in Israel. Ah, but later, we learn the secret reason for the trip to America, and specifically the State of Virginia.
Director Sam Fisher has an outstanding cast of four in “Handle with Care.” ERIN COHEN as Ayelet is a very animated and attractive, who obviously knows Hebrew and was very convincing with her words and the body language she used to communicate, mainly to Josh.
Josh is played by JASON COLLINS, who directed Theatre Jacksonville’s last play “Lombardi.” Collins, besides being an award winning director, is equally acknowledged as an actor, with many fine performances at all the community theatres in North Florida. He uses superb timing and facial gestures as he conveys the frustration of trying to communicate with someone when a language barrier exists.
THOMAS TRAUGER as Terrance, the dumber than dirt delivery man, gives Jacksonville audiences another example of his wonderful acting talents, especially when doing comedy. But then again he can do it all, and has done over 60 productions on local stages playing an infinite variety of characters. Trauger’s performance provides much of the comic relief and as an audience we could not wait to see what was going to come out of this mouth next. A talented director as well, Mr. Trauger will direct “The Subject was Roses” coming up on Theatre Jacksonville’s stage February 21, 2014.
The final member of the cast is SARAH BOONE, as Edna. Now we would have never considered her, at her age, the grandmother type but theatre being theatre, actors are sometimes called upon to stretch themselves. The Executive Director of Theater Jacksonville, Ms. Boone did not try out for this role, but was pressed into service two days before the preview performance when a personal emergency required an actress to drop out. Ms. Boone was line perfect at the preview performance we saw and very believable as well. It was a surprise to realize what a grey wig and a pair of glasses can do to change personality. We do think she could add some lines to her face to add some age. Sarah has done a number of roles at TJ over the years, but is most noted for her vocal prowess in the “Happily Red” concert series she created as a fund raiser for TJ.
For this production TRACY OLIN created the costumes, with CAROLINE LEE as the Production Consultant. DAVID DAWSON, Technical Director, also designed the set and the lighting, handled the properties, and was the running crew along with AUDIE GIBSON.
The was Sam Fisher’s debut as a Director at Theatre Jacksonville, and he has assembled an outstanding cast and handled them with care. Mr. Fisher has become a very much in demand Director on the local theatre scene, and will be directing “Angels in America” at Players by the Sea in 2014.
“Handle With Care” is a unusual comedy and a unique way to look at romance. It is a lot of fun so take a break from shopping and enjoy this comedy. It will run through December 22nd at Theatre Jacksonville in San Marco. Call 396-4425 for reservations.

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