What are the chances that when a lonely attractive young woman meets a lonely attractive young man, they will get together? In romance novels and holiday stage dramas plotted like romance novels, you can imagine the odds are pretty good. In these situations it’s always a good bet to have characters the audience can root for, and playwright Jason Odell Williams stacks the deck in his pleasant “Handle With Care,” now at B Street Theatre.
As with many trips where the destination is never in question, the fun is in the getting there. Here the trip is carried by the feisty charm of Stephanie Althoz as Ayelet, a young Hebrew-speaking Israeli woman visiting the United States for the first time. Ayelet has reluctantly accompanied her Israeli grandmother, Edna (an energetic and charming Eve Sigall) who has a mysterious ulterior motive for a curious path down the Eastern seaboard. They have arrived in the nondescript suburban wasteland of Goodview, Va., on Christmas Eve.
Although Edna has died by the time the play gets started, we see her often in flashback scenes (spoken in English) with Ayelet, which alternate with the present circumstances. Edna’s body has been “lost” by the inept delivery driver Terrence (a bright, broad Jason Kuykendall) who is the play’s comic relief. A genial Southern boy, Terrence isn’t the brightest bulb in the light fixture, and he’s gotten himself into a big ole mess losing track of Edna’s body and his delivery truck. Terrence calls his friend Josh ( the steady Tyler Pierce) to come the motel room where Ayelet waits for word on the whereabouts of Edna.
Josh is the only Jewish person Terrance knows, so the hopes are Josh can talk with the Ayelet, who speaks no English. Josh’s Hebrew is, shall we say, rusty, so he and Ayelet fumble through the awkwardness of barely understanding each other. That’s good for a few laughs, though eventually they will “communicate” on a deeper level.
While Williams effectively lays in severally emotionally charged plot points to push the melodrama, he’s lazy and condescending toward his audience at times as well. Midway through the one-act production, he has Terrance deliver a neat Cliffs Notes-like summation of the theme and plot just in case you’re not sure what is happening right in front of you. Later he has the Israeli grandmother make an insider joke about American geography that she wouldn’t know to joke about. Of course, maybe she had watched a lot of “The Sopranos.” The actors work hard to make it all fly, and the B Street audience appreciated their skilled efforts.
What plays best here are Altholz and Pierce as people who don’t know they are looking for each other and then suddenly realize what they’ve found. Director Lyndsay Burch puts both the obvious comedy and deliberate poignancy of script at the forefront of this benign holiday diversion.
Handle With Care
What: B Street favorite Stephanie Altholz plays a young Israeli woman who meets up with young American Tyler Pierce in this modern holiday romance.
When: Through Sunday, Jan. 3, 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m Wednesdays and Sundays.
Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
Cost: $23-$35, $5 student rush
Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Information: 916-443-5300, bstreettheatre.org