We usually use the phrase “Handle with Care” to indicate that something is breakable. But in the case of Shadowland Stages’ current production, it’s not giving anything away …
We usually use the phrase “Handle with Care” to indicate that something is breakable. But in the case of Shadowland Stages’ current production, it’s not giving anything away to tell you that “Handle With Care,” written by Jason Odell Williams and Charlotte Cohn, refers to a body. A dead body. The dead body of the grandmother of a young lady named Ayelet (Anat Cogan), who comes from Israel and speaks nary a word of English.
Told in a series of six scenes, the play takes place in a hotel room in Goodview, Virginia on Christmas Eve of 2008, and the day before. So – Christmas Eve Eve?
The play opens with Aylet screaming (in Hebrew) at Terry (Justin Pietropaolo), the hapless DHX delivery driver whose truck was stolen at a convenience store. The truck just happened to contain the body of Ayelet’s grandmother, who died unexpectedly while the two were on a tour of the United States.
The purpose of the trip, the rationale, the objective – they all become clear as we watch the two days unfold, the first with Aylet and her grandmother Edna (Lori Wilner), and the second with Aylet and Terry. Oh, and then there’s Josh (Jordan Kaplan), a friend of Terry’s, called in because he’s Jewish, in the hope that he can translate. Yeah, right.
Directed by Shadowland’s gifted Artistic Director Brendan Burke, “Handle With Care” fits into several different categories. It’s a play about friendship and family relationships, there’s a mystery to solve, holidays to celebrate, and toward the end, there’s even … well you’ll have to go see it to find out what else happens.
Anat Cogan is perfect as the bereaved granddaughter, going out of her mind with worry. Her multi-level frustrations come through loud and clear, even – and perhaps especially – when she’s speaking Hebrew. It’s a difficult role, which Cogan performs seamlessly.
Justin Pietropaolo, who has made us both laugh and cry in the previous Shadowland productions of “K2,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Whipping Man” and others, is delightful as the “going-out-of-his-mind-with-worry” delivery guy. Hapless, clueless and frantic, Pietropaolo is so good, it seems he was born to play this kind of role.
Lori Wilner, who has acted in Shadowland’s “The Foreigner,” “The Memory of Water,” and “Bill W and Dr. Bob,” among others, portrays Grandma Edna with enviable energy and enthusiasm. Her Edna loves life and loves adventure, and Wilner interprets that passion intensely.
Justin Kaplan, who is making his Shadowland debut, is charming and amusing, and as sweet as his character Josh should be. Kaplan easily fluctuates between Josh’s confusion and sympathy, his desire to not be involved and his willingness to help.
“Handle with Care” is a unique and quirky story that will leave you with a warm and cozy holiday feeling. And couldn’t we all use a dose of that right about now?
The show runs through December 19 on Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Proof of vaccination is required, and masks must be worn at all times when indoors. Shadowland Stages is located at 157 Canal Street in Ellenville. Purchase tickets at ShadowlandStages.org or call the box office at 845-647-5511.
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