As I re-read director Karla Hartley's note in the program for Handle With Care, it all started to make sense about how a simple holiday play centered on a Jewish grandmother and granddaughter could wind up being so important.
"Finding commonality is a step to understanding," Hartley writes. "Understanding is a step to empathy. Empathy is a step towards peace. ... We must overcome the barriers that keep us separated as people whatever those barriers may be — language, religion, politics or philosophical differences."
Artistic Director Hartley's Stageworks production follows an Israeli woman named Ayelet (Georgina McKee), who travels to America with her grandmother (Savta, played by Midge Mamatas) on a personal mission. A foul-up caused by a delivery driver named Terrance (Brandon Shea) forces translator Josh (Eddie Gomez) to use the little Hebrew he knows to set things straight.
The strongest character portrayal comes to us from McKee. Her Ayelet speaks mostly in Hebrew and stumbles on everyday English phrases, revealing months of language coaching. The makeup and costumes are appropriately plain for two women on a long road trip. The production, as well as the motel room set, are also presented simply — and this play shouldn't be staged any other way.
The tender Handle With Care will make you laugh, cry — especially during the conversations between Ayelet and Savta — and learn a bit about Jewish traditions, making you realize that even through something as insurmountable as a language barrier, we can still somehow manage to communicate with each other.
Most importantly, the interpersonal situations encountered in Handle With Care are authentic to those we deal with in everyday life — love, coming of age, loss of youth and cultural differences. Any great play is supposed to make you think about real life, right?