Friday, November 14, 2014

Arizona Daily Star

Invisible Theatre has accomplished the seemingly impossible:
Found a talented Hebrew-speaking actress in Tucson.
Noga Panai spent the bulk of her time as Ayelet in IT’s current offering, “Handle With Care,” speaking Hebrew. It was a demand of the role that that be her first, and almost only, language. Really, now, how many actors can you point to here that could step into that role? And step into it well?
While no one else on the stage understood her character (except her grandmother in the few scenes they had), and most of the audience wasn’t sure what she was saying, Panai made Ayelet, a young Israeli who has reluctantly accompanied her grandmother on a trip to the to states, full and recognizable.
This Jason Odell Williams play about fate and a search for love and meaning is slight, and excessively contrived.
But this cast of four, directed with a tender touch by Susan Claassen, made us believe — in fate, friendship, and love at first — maybe it was the second — glance.
Ayelet and her grandmother (Lois Lederman nicely portrayed the hopelessly romantic oldster) have been haunting small, out-of-the way Virginia towns. They stay in blah hotel rooms — think the lower-end of Motel 6 — in search of something. Ayelet doesn’t know what, and her grandmother isn’t saying. At least not at first.
When her grandmother dies, Ayelet quickly makes arrangements to fly her back to Israel. Thing is, Terrence, the seriously spacey courier (a very funny Jesse Boone), loses the body. As he speaks no Hebrew, and she no English, getting the message across is a tad difficult.
Enter Josh (Luke S. Howell in a sweet and completely sincere performance). Josh is Terrence’s friend and happens to have a Jewish mother. Terrence makes the giant leap that, therefore, Josh can speak Hebrew.
“Handle With Care” chronicles their struggles to communicate as the story jumps back and forth between the day of the death, and the day after.
There are plenty of laughs in the play, but more than anything it has a sweetness that counterbalances the thin plot. And while the story might not stick with you, this cast and its heartfelt performances surely will.

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Thank you Chuck Graham for this rave review!!!

This year give the holidays an ecumenical lift by taking in an Invisible Theater performance of “Handle With Care,” a sweetly charming Jewish Christmas story about finding love in a provincial Virginia motel the night of Dec. 24, as a gentle snow falls outside on the window sill.
All the magic of the seasons – both Christian and Jewish – are sprinkled throughout the play by Jason Odell Williams. Lots of good humor and some tips on Jewish religious traditions fill the animated dialogue being tossed about by Ayelet (Israeli actress Noga Panai), Josh and Edna, played by local talents Luke S. Howell and Lois Lederman.
On hand to be the Southern boy who only knows what he's learned in Sunday School is Terrence (Jesse Boone), the hapless DHL driver who had his delivery truck stolen with the body of Ayelet's grandmother inside. Terrence is also best buddies with Josh, whose mother is Jewish and father is Catholic.
In flashbacks two days before, we learn Ayelet's grandmother Edna has brought Ayelet from Israel for a visit to Virginia. So the scenes bounce back back and forth, bringing the two stories together as, toward the end, Josh and Aylet make some discoveries about each other that could only happen in the spirit of Christmas.
Panai is the sparkle at the center of this IT production directed by Susan Claassen. With tightly focused energy and a natural command of Hebrew, Panai has her own magic to make anything seem possible.
Josh is the nice Jewish boy who doesn't even know he is one as the play begins. He only knows a few words of Hebrew that have any use in polite company. And has just a passing familiarity with Jewish religious traditions. But Josh becomes an eager learner as he begins to realize the importance of these traditions to Ayelet, who speaks very little English.
As for the humor, much of that comes from Terrence trying to explain how the grandmother's body disappeared when someone stole the delivery truck without looking inside first – just figuring that on Christmas Eve the truck would be full of Christmas presents.
All this gets worked out over several scenes in both acts, fumbling, with the language, learning Ayelet's boyfriend in Israel was a jerk who dumped her and Josh's wife was killed in an auto accident two years earlier.
The mysterious figure is Edna, the grandmother, whose own love story from her youth got tangled up back in times more rigidly controlled by those same Jewish traditions.
"Handle With Care” lives up to its title, proving once again that romance at any age can become a powerful healing force. Claassen nurtures these feelings, as well as our willingness to believe such a sentimental story could happen during this highest of holidays for both Christians and Jews.
Sometimes it can feel really good to just believe in the importance of believing a little harder.
Performances continue through Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. matinees Sundays and also Saturday, Nov. 22, at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. All tickets are $30, with discounts available. For details and reservations, 520-882-9721, or visit