Handle with Care, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre, is a pretty good choice for a production at this holiday time of year. It’s sweet, a little bit touching, a little bit funny, and though it’s not tied that much to the Christmas season other than that the action takes place Dec. 23 and 24 in a past year, it definitely carries a message of love and understanding.
The understanding takes a while in coming. When the curtain rises we first see Ayelet (Anat Cogan), a young Israeli woman, shouting in a foreign language at a befuddled delivery truck driver named Terrence (Mat Leonard). Facing off against each other in a Virginia motel room that’s as generic as they come, he doesn’t understand a word of what she’s saying, but he gets just enough to figure she’s speaking “Jewish” (Hebrew, in fact), so he summons an old buddy, Josh (Michael Zlabinger), to help him out.
Not that Josh is a very observant Jew, and his Hebrew is strictly of the bar mitzvah variety. But a lot of the fun in Jason Odell Williams’ piece (with the Hebrew written by his wife, Charlotte Cohn) comes as the American men try to communicate with Ayelet and vice versa, through gestures, facial expressions, the occasional common word and a dash or two of Hollywood movie references that everyone seems to know.
It turns out that Terrence, who’s well-meaning but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, has lost a very important package, and that’s what Ayelet is so upset about. But in the course of the evening, we see that her feelings run deeper than just that frustration, especially as we see her connect with the grandmother (Marine Re) with whom she’s been traveling. And we also learn that Josh has suffered a loss of his own, one that he so far hasn’t made much progress recovering from.
Meanwhile, the snow is falling outside the motel room window, and it looks like they could all be here for a while.
Under the direction of Jason Cannon, we get to know and like these characters, even while Handle with Care never goes overboard on any dramatic moments. Leonard has a nice goofy touch as Terrence, and Cogan and Re have good rapport as grandmother and granddaughter, each in her own way longing for love. (In their scenes with each other, they speak English so we understand them.)
And we slowly watch Zlabinger’s Josh warm up from his initial prickly attitude at being summoned for what he assumes is a setup date; it’s pleasant to watch him and Cogan learn a good deal about each other in a short amount of time, and discover that language difficulties need not stand in their way.
Handle with Care is anything but showy or splashy. But it is a holiday package most audiences will enjoy opening. It continues onstage through March 8; for tickets, call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.