When people we love are depressed, how do we help them? In the Montgomery Theater's production of Handle With Care, an Israeli woman named Ayelet, somewhere between her mid-20s and mid-30s, has been in a rut for a while. She was dumped by her last (unworthy) boyfriend, though the deeper roots of her troubles are left for us to fill in. Her grandmother (savta in Hebrew) Edna, who knows Ayelet is the kind of young woman who usually lights up a room, is determined to help her shake off her sadness by going on a grand journey with her to America.
Flashbacks from the months leading up to the trip, as well as the unexpected fruits of their journey, are the subjects of Handle With Care, by Emmy-nominated Jason Odell Williams. Since it debuted Off-Broadway in 2013, the play has had 18 regional and international productions (and counting) and has been optioned as a film.
Sarah Raimondi, as Ayelet, returns for her third production at Montgomery Theater, and Barbara Hannevig plays Edna. In a show that frequently favors lightweight comic one-liners over sustained emotional depth and follow-through, Edna provides much of the emotional ballast. We experience her genuine concern for her granddaughter and relate to her attempts to help.
Meanwhile, a parallel storyline plays out between two childhood friends, Terrence and Josh, whose paths cross with the women. Terrence, a hapless DHX delivery driver (Josh Carpenter), loses track of an important package for Ayelet on Christmas Eve, and Josh (Jesse Bernstein) turns out to be the only friend willing to come to his aid. Josh, who lost his wife in a car accident "20 months and two days" ago, still wears his wedding ring. Since the accident, he believes that life is a series of random events not governed by any divine plan -- he tells us he grew up in a "religion-lite" home, anyway.
Hannevig's Edna provides patches of wild, frantic energy in the play's tame landscape. In a spectral, pink-tinted flashback, she implores Ayelet to go to America and to make active decisions about her life. In another scene, having experienced some devastating internal disappointment, Edna flings clothes at her suitcase in an irrational frenzy, demanding that she and Ayelet immediately leave their hotel in Goodview, Va. -- they checked in only three hours earlier.
Handle With Care, which the playwright and others have called a "Jewish Christmas play," crosses cultural boundaries in conveying that the holidays can be a complicated time, filled with loneliness and heightened memories of loss, as much as with joy and togetherness. It ultimately sticks to the well-worn path of holiday fare, in which loose ends get tied up neatly into a big red bow of a happy ending.