Celebrate 2014 by going to see “Handle With Care” at the Westside Theatre Downstairs and relish a delicious, funny play that raises the concept of farklempt to new heights.
There’s stunning, statuesque Charlotte Cohn as Hebrew spouting Ayalet whose “Safta’s” (grandmother’s) coffin has vanished in the wilds of Virginia. The hilarious provincial van driver Terrence (Sheffield Chastain) is at a loss about what happened to the corpse. He calls on his [half] Jewish friend, Josh (Jonathan Sale) who he assumes understands Ayalet’s rat-at-tat Hebrew because he’d had — what he refers to — as his “Hare Krishna” (Bar Mitzvah) celebration. No luck.
Not until a flashback setting in Act II do we meet the missing Safta, Edna — portrayed by the still gorgeous Carol Lawrence —the original Maria in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway “West Side Story.” A Holocaust survivor, Safta Lawrence — on a visceral search to find someone — gets the accent, the mannerisms and the essence of her war-ravaged character down pat.
Amidst double entendres and cross-cultural faux pas, Ayalet and Josh slowly diminish the linguistic gulf with — among others — a reference to “Fiddler on the Roof” here and a grasp about the meaning of Shabbat there… Was their encounter in a Virginia hotel a random accident, a coincidence-or a bashert destiny? Directed by Karen Carpenter, the poignant yet laughter-eliciting play’s unpredictable ending elicited a communal “Ahhh! from the opening night audience.