By Renee Valois, Special to the Pioneer Press, Posted April 15, 2013
Is it coincidence or synchronicity when remarkable things happen that bring two people together who were unlikely to have otherwise met? Some may see the hand of God in it, while others explain this away as confirmation bias -- our propensity for seeing in random events exactly what we want to see.
"Handle With Care," from Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, throws together a couple of people who are mourning lost relationships and having trouble moving on -- and it does so through an odd series of circumstances. A dumber-than-a-stick DHL delivery driver loses his truck with an urgent package inside, and suddenly a chain of events starts that turns two personal worlds upside down.
Some -- like my companion -- may have a little trouble believing the final twist in the story, but I found it satisfying. Unlikely coincidences do happen in the real world -- however, it certainly is risky for a playwright to put them into a script, where they can seem artificial and manipulative.
What saves this production from crossing the line into disbelief is a fine cast under the direction of Hayley Finn.
Miriam Schwartz portrays Ayelet, an Israeli woman visiting America with her grandmother (Linda Kelsey) who ends up in rural Goodview, Va., on Christmas Eve. Unable to converse in English, she needs the help of Josh (Ryan M. Lindberg), the Jewish friend of the DHL driver (Dustin Bronson), to cobble together an awkward mix of hand gestures, Hebrew and the occasional English word to communicate.
While Bronson provides comic relief as a stereotypical ignorant American bumpkin whose clueless lapses get the ball rolling, the rest of the cast makes Jason Odell Williams' dialogue genuine and moving (enough to bring tears to the eyes).
Since there are no subtitles to tell us what Ayelet is saying in Hebrew, at times it becomes rather uncomfortable for nonspeakers to sit through her extended dialogue as we, like Josh, try to puzzle out the general meaning. However, this does effectively convey the difficulty he experiences in trying to understand Ayelet.
The entire play takes place in a typical dull hotel room, believably assembled by scenic designer Carl Schoenborn. This ordinary background helps to ground the surprising elements in reality.
"Handle With Care" slides an unlikely premise into a simple story conveying a tender mix of grief and romance leavened with hope. In the hands of Finn and her cast, it truly has been handled with care.