The ties that bind people to each other are bound to fray now and then, but it is up to each person in the relationship, be it friendship or romantic, to keep those threads from breaking. But when the threads get more complicated and new elements are introduced to the picture, instead of a beautiful tapestry you can end up with a mess. THE WANDERERS, a new play by Anna Ziegler now playing at the Old Globe, is a thoughtful and emotional look at relationships through two disparate couples in New York; one a hipster couple and the other an arranged marriage between Hasidic Jews as each couple tries to navigate their lives and relationships without losing the thread between them.
The play weaves between the two different worlds and the relationships in them as we follow the newlywed Hasidic couple Esther (Ali Rose Dachis) and Schmuli (Dave Klasko), and their less religious minded complements the childhood sweethearts married couple of writers Sophie (Michelle Beck) and Abe (Daniel Eric Gold).
As each couple tries to move forward and overcome their struggles they see each other from different angles, necessitating them to explore the making or breaking of their relationship. For Esther and Shcmuli it comes in the many rules and the suppression of Esther’s curiosity and yearning to be happy, versus Sophie and Abe whos marriage is threatened by the temptation of a movie star, Julia Cheever (Janie Brookshire) via email correspondence.
As both couples deal with the emotional fall out of their choices, the play explores the role of religion, the influence of parents and community, and dealing with the siren call of what you want life to look like versus where you currently find yourself. Are you willing to do something drastic to change your life and find this elusive ideal, and what do you do if it’s not exactly as you have envisioned?
Using a striking table and piles of books on this uncluttered set by Marion Williams, these items both represent connection and obstacles as the couples lives and relationships are played out upon them. For the writers the books are both a livelihood and a source of frustration as Abe is an acclaimed novelist while Sophie still struggles. Esther finds delight in exploring some secular books, while Schmuli draws the line at even “Winnie The Pooh’. While the books become the symbols of success, temptation, and sacred scripture, the scenes are introduced in “chapters” leading the audience to wonder what kind of lives these characters will end up writing for themselves.
Dachis as Esther and Klasko as Schmuli are heartfelt and beautifully acted. This is particularly true as Esther starts to show some independent thought and finds she is powerless to some of Schmuli’s decisions.
Beck is excellent as Sophie, the loving but increasingly frustrated wife of Abe a brilliant if neurotic and obsessive over thinker. Gold makes Abe’s self-doubt and need for validation a nice foil to his confidence in his writing and ability to communicate through that medium.
Brookshire as the movie star is excellent at balancing her characters seemingly genuine compassion, with her desire to impress with her academic posturing, and her life of elitist privilege. The scenes between Julia and Abe are all via email, but the actors and the staging find ways to show their connection deepen as their intellectual flirtation grows more serious.
Directed by Barry Edelstein, this one act keeps raising the emotional stakes with some unexpected moments and revelations, and manages to keep Abe and Schmuli both on this side of engaging as their behavior can make them appear less than sympathetic.
Happiness can be found amongst restlessness and temptation. The personal dynamics in relationships can be work, but it can be worth what you discover during the exploration. At the end of THE WANDERERS you may find yourself both contemplative and hopeful. After all, there is so much left of your life and relationships to write.
THE WANDERERS is playing through May 6th at the Old Globe in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. For tickets and show time information go to www.theoldglobe.org