In FST’s production of Handle With Care, Terrence – a well-meaning, but somewhat unskilled delivery man – calls his childhood best friend, Josh, when he finds himself in trouble (again). When Josh comes to Terrence’s rescue, he meets Ayelet, an Israeli woman with limited knowledge of English. She is screaming at Terrence because he lost her very important package. Josh must figure out how to communicate with her, despite his very limited Hebrew vocabulary.
Michael Zablinger plays Josh in Handle With Care. We sat down with him to discuss his favorite parts of the play, his thoughts about destiny, and the challenge of balancing comedy with drama.
What is it like performing a play with a built-in language barrier? How has this influenced your scene work with Anat, who plays Ayelet?
This is the second time I’ve done this role, and I did another bilingual play that was mostly in Chinese. A language barrier in a play provides amazing comedic material, so there are a lot of goofy moments that come out of misunderstanding. There are moments when we clearly don’t understand each other at all, but there are also moments where we almost understand each other, but then get confused again. The dance we [Anat and I] do to get what we mean across to each other is a lot of fun to play with – it makes the actor fight hard to get what they want by any means necessary.
The other technical element you need to work out is how do you physically convey a thought when the words aren’t there to express it,? When is the exact moment that what the other person means “clicks” for you? It requires some precision.
What is the most fun part of this production for you? What is most challenging?
The absurdity of Josh and Ayelet’s situation is the most fun for me. There are so many things that go wrong and so many circumstances that are stacked against us. Comedy is always around the corner for them: the language barrier, the snowstorm, the missing package, and Josh’s mixed feelings about helping his friend out of this predicament yet again.
The challenge in this comedy is that there is quite a bit of drama and some very touching moments. Finding that balance and moving through the transition from a comedic moment to a more poignant one needs quite a bit of precision and tuning in with the audience.
Handle With Care presents ideas of fate and soul mates vs. random coincidences. Do you believe some things are “meant to be” like the relationship discovered in this play?
Things are “meant to be” only because we imbue them with meaning. But even that is part of the general concept of “destiny.”
What is it about a moment with someone, or an experience while traveling? Or a surprise that happens in your usual routine that jumps out at you as unique?
There is an internal design to how we search for meaning and guidance in all the things that are thrown at us. It is up to us to be inspired and to do something with a serendipitous experience.
Why should someone come see Handle With Care?
People should come see Handle With Care because it is a story about how people from disparate cultures deal with a language barrier and a high stakes situation, but still find a way to connect.
The fact that a love story emerges from it reminds us that we aren’t as different from one another. The need to be understood, to be heard, and to be helped with something you can’t do on your own far transcends a simple language barrier. In these polarized times, Handle With Care is a good dose of comedy that reminds us of how much connection and listening to one another is needed.
Handle With Care played in FST’s Keating Theatre from December 11, 2019, to March 8, 2020.