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‘Handle With Care’ captures a humorous and moving struggle to communicate

For 30 years, Boulevard Ensemble has delighted audiences by presenting lesser-known works with emerging Milwaukee area actors — and the opening work of their new season continues that tradition. Jason Odell Williams’ romantic comedy Handle With Care launches this anniversary season with a story that mixes humor and pathos with disarming effect.

The play follows an Israeli-born grandmother, Edna, and her granddaughter, Ayelot, as they travel the backwoods of Virginia. When the play opens, their journey has hit a bit of a snag: The grandmother is dead.

Respecting Jewish tradition, Ayelot is sending her grandmother back to Israel so that she can be buried as quickly as possible in accordance with religious law. Terrence, a local delivery man, is charged with helping to get the body to Israel, but Edna’s body goes missing when his truck is stolen.

Torn as to what to do, Terrence must try to explain to Ayelot what has happened and what must be done. Because he only speaks English and she only speaks Hebrew, Terrence enlists his Jewish friend Josh, who can speak a very small amount of Hebrew, to try and communicate with Ayelot while he finds a solution. 

“There’s a comedy aspect in watching the two communicate, “ said artistic director Mark Bucher in a recent phone interview. “Essentially, they are communicating with exaggerated gestures and very little speech for a time. It’s very entertaining.” 

Bucher says the play is not just a farce. It draws on some very powerful and difficult subjects that we face in our everyday lives. 

“The show has a beautiful message of affirmation and renewal amid the dealing with Ayelot and Josh’s personal grief stories,” Bucher says. “Audience members learn early in the show that Josh lost his wife in a car crash three years ago and has not quite recovered from that yet.” 

As the two try explaining what has happened and communicate, it becomes clear that they are falling for one another. More is learned about Ayelot’s relationship with Edna as well through flashbacks that take place throughout the show — delivered in English, for the sake of the audience.

It isn’t easy to make it 30 years in the theater business, Bucher says, but Handle With Care is a great way to start the celebration. “This show is a perfect example of what we have prided ourselves on for the last 30 years. We have sought out a wonderful show that has not received the stage time it deserves and producing it for an all-new audience,” says Bucher. 

Bucher is also glad to offer young, developing actors a chance to be onstage with Handle With Care. “This has been our mission from the beginning. … Our Josh and Ayelot are young performers just finishing college degrees with great talent. Both have great futures ahead of them.”

ON STAGE

Boulevard Theatre’s production of Handle With Care runs Nov. 7-29 at Plymouth Church, 2717 E. Hampshire Ave., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $10 to $25 and can be ordered at boulevardtheatre.com.

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