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Time Out Theater Review: ‘Handle With Care’

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Carol Lawrence, the actress known for originating the role of Maria in the Broadway classic "West Side Story," is back on the New York stage this season in the off-Broadway production of “Handle With Care.” Contributing critic David Cote of Time Out New York filed the following review.

Jason Odell Williams’ “Handle with Care” is fish out of water tale. Make that gefilte fish out of water. This half-kosher rom-com tells the story of two Israeli tourists in small-town America looking for love. Actually one of them is looking for the love; the other just finds it accidentally.

In fact, accidents and misunderstandings form the basis for much of the humor in “Handle with Care.” It’s a frequently awkward mix of sitcom-level farce, intergenerational schmaltz and cross-cultural romance.

Here’s the set up: lovelorn Ayelet stops at a rural Virginia motel with her spunky grandmother, Edna, right around Christmas. Edna has a secret agenda, one that involves an American from her distant past.

Told partly in the flashback, the story verges on tasteless slapstick when we learn that Edna died the day before. Her body was due to be shipped back to Israeli, but the delivery van, and her body, were stolen. The guy who lost the body, a bumbling hick by the name of Terrence, dragoons the only Jewish guy he knows, Josh, to translate for Ayelet who, naturally, barely speaks English.

Cue meeting cute with mangled English and Hebrew. If you aren’t sure whether these two lonelyhearts will get together, you need to get out more. The actors do their best with material that is weighed down with contrivance and clunky one-liners. Broadway veteran Carol Lawrence endows Edna with plenty of zest and heart and Charlotte Cohn and Jonathan Sale have sparks of chemistry amidst the cheese.

As a diversion for the holidays, “Handle with Care” is harmless enough, good for visiting relatives. Just don’t expect any nutrition from its sticky sweetness.

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