Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Handle with Care
Florida Studio Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Gruesome Playground Injuries and Harmony for the Holidays

Michael Zlabinger and Anat Cogan
Photo by Matthew Holler
Handle with Care, a romantic comedy by Jason Odell Williams with Hebrew written by Charlotte Cohn, is yet another play about a mismatched couple who meet cute but work things out by the end. Many, if not most, of these plays are for two characters only, but this one adds two more who weave in and out of the background, but in the end it is still recognizably formulaic.

Although the play has received a fair amount of acclaim including a 2013 Off-Broadway run with West Side Story star Carol Lawrence as the grandmother, and garnered favorable reviews for a London production, I find most of the writing on the level of mediocre situation comedy, only rising seriously above this in a couple of scenes. At the end of the first of this production, I felt the direction might be seriously flawed because the acting seemed out of focus, but a couple of fine scenes in the second act proved that when given material able to be brought to life, this cast (as directed by Jason Canon) is more than capable of doing so.

The first scene between the two lead characters—Anat Cogan as Ayelet, an Israeli traveling with her grandmother in America, and Michael Zlabinger as Josh, an American—is forced, unable to draw the audience in except for a few very brief moments when they share their personal experiences of loss. A second-act scene between them, in which Ayelet shares her joy in religious ritual, lands more honestly, only to have its gentle magic exploded by the arrival of a plot point I saw coming much earlier. A monologue delivered by Marina Re Edna as Ayelet's grandmother Edna is another high point, emotionally far more grounded than the rest of the play. The fourth character, delivery driver Terrence, played by Mat Leonard, is actually the best drawn. He is stereotypically Butthead to Josh's Beavis; the author seems to understand him.

Anat Cogan is youthfully beautiful, especially in her second act red costume. She makes Ayelet as emotionally involving as the playwright allows. Michael Zlabinger presents a pleasant ability to deliver the character of Josh. Mat Leonard enlivens the limited intellectual world Terrence inhabits. Marina Re really delivers in her second act opening monologue about past love and risk taking.

Director Jason Canon keeps things moving, but drawing me deeply into these characters seems beyond realistic possibilities. The audience walks in on a drab motel room in small-town Virginia, very realistic in design by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay. Costume designs by Donna Riggs are accurate to the dramatic situations, and little is required from Thom Beaulieu's lighting.

Although I didn't find myself drawn into the lives of these characters, some may enjoy a short hour and a half with them.

Handle with Care runs through March 8, 2020, at Florida Studio Theatre, Keating Theater, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, please call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Ayelet: Anat Cogan*
Terrence: Mat Leonard*
Edna: Marina Re*
Josh: Michael Zlabinger*
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association