In FST’s production of Handle With Care, Terrence – a well-meaning, but somewhat unskilled delivery man – calls his childhood best friend, Josh, to get him out of a pinch (again). It turns out that Terrence has lost a crucial package belonging to Ayelet, an Israeli woman with limited knowledge of English. Terrence works to track the package down, while Josh figures out how to communicate with Ayelet, even though he knows very little Hebrew.
Mat Leonard plays Terrence 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.
Tell us about your character, Terrence. In what ways do you connect with him? How are you two different?
Terrence is a joyful, caring, loyal, and comically inept person who is unintentionally hilarious when trying to accomplish even the simplest of tasks.
Despite the obvious affinity for Wawa, I connect with Terrence’s enthusiasm for seeing other people find happiness. He takes genuine pleasure in seeing others fill with joy.
As far as differences, I’m fortunate enough to have never accidentally lost a human body, and I am far less befuddled by the changing dates of Hanukkah than Terrence.
What sets Handle With Care apart from shows you’ve done before?
This show balances side-splitting comedy with grounded, nuanced relationships. The characters in Handle With Care confront their wounds and weaknesses by opening themselves up to one another. It’s rare for a play to be both revelatory and hilarious, and even rarer for a play to strike both of those notes in two languages!
A lot of people really enjoy your character, Terrence. Why do you think audiences are so drawn to him?
I imagine that people find Terrence’s relentless optimism, energy, and willingness to pursue the best in any situation to be contagious. Terrence reminds us that even the most difficult situations can be handled with humor and goodness. Also, he is constantly making a fool of himself in the service of making others laugh.
What do you most enjoy about telling this story?
In addition to the script being brilliant, hilarious, and unpredictable, there is a real sense of goodness and joy at the core of these characters. There’s a palpable sense of characters finding hope and connection where there was previously despair and isolation.
These characters are each so original, fully fleshed out, and full of surprises and moments of deep insight. The relationships between the characters are constantly changing in ways that are both unpredictable and yet it feels completely grounded in reality.
Why do we need Handle With Care today?
This is a story in which people from wildly different cultures, education levels, and temperaments come together in search of common goals and discover how they can be of service to one another. In today’s society, that ability to see people who we disagree with or don’t understand as human beings rather than others is vital.
Handle With Care played in FST’s Keating Theatre from December 11, 2019, to March 8, 2020.