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Young Israeli at heart of ‘Handle With Care,’ comedy hit coming to Invisible Theatre

Lois Lederman and Noga Panai rehearse ‘Handle With Care’ at Invisible Theatre. (Tim Fuller)
Lois Lederman and Noga Panai rehearse ‘Handle With Care’ at Invisible Theatre. (Tim Fuller)

Tucson’s Invisible Theater will celebrate its 44th anniversary season with the Southwestern premiere of Jason Odell Williams’ comedy, “Handle With Care.”

Described as the “Jewish ‘Christmas Carol’ play for all audiences” by the playwright, “Handle With Care” is the story of a young Israeli woman, with little command of English, who travels to America with her grandmother and meets a man, with little command of romance. The play is directed by Susan Claassen and stars University of Arizona senior Jesse Boone, native Tucsonan Luke Howell, local actress Lois Lederman (former sales manager of the Arizona Jewish Post) and Tel Aviv native Noga Panai.

The Invisible Theater has expanded from its origins as an arena for local playwrights to include adaptations of classics and off-Broadway plays and musicals. An intimate 80-seat theater in a converted laundry building, the theater has received the first Arizona Theatre Association Award for Best Producing Theater Company.

The play’s original inspiration was Williams’ wife, Charlotte. “I wanted to write a part for my wife, who’s Israeli and has a masterful command of modern Hebrew. She told me that she’s always been fascinated with people who can’t be understood, due to a language barrier or other reasons. The part gave her a chance to showcase her language and acting skills.” This is Williams’ first full-length play.

Williams, a non-Jew, has been humbled by how well the play has been received in Jewish communities regionally and nationwide. “The play is unique because it doesn’t just appeal to Jewish audiences, but really any audience member craving a warm, holiday-hearted romantic comedy.”

“Handle With Care” enjoyed regional success prior to its 2013 world premiere in Ithaca, N.Y. Afterward, the play had a successful off-Broadway run that received rave reviews in the New York Times and became a Critics’ Pick. In addition to Tucson, four other premieres are scheduled nationwide.

Life as a playwright for Williams is “fun and hard,” he says. “Doing what I love, writing for TV, publishing books, playwriting, is really great. Watching [the play] grow from an idea to pages to production is exciting.” Williams is an Emmy-nominated writer for the National Geographic Channel hit TV series “Brain Games.” He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Charlotte, daughter, Imogen, and newly housetrained puppy.

“Handle With Care” opens Wednesday, Nov. 12, and will play through Sunday, Nov. 23. Tickets are available at the Invisible Theater box office, located at 1400 N. First Ave. at Drachman, by phone at 882-9721, or online at Tickets are $30 with discounts available for seniors, groups and students.

Sarah Chen is a freelance writer and blogger who lives with her husband and two children in Tucson.