Friday, May 5, 2023
Fresh from a successful Off-Broadway run, the new play The Wanderers by Anna Ziegler opened at Six Points Theater last weekend. The compelling story of two seemingly different couples is well told by this cast and creative team. The thought-provoking and relatable play explores themes of marriage, the parent/child relationship, identity, and legacy. The Wanderers continues at Six Points Theater's home in the Highland Park Community Center in St. Paul through May 14.
The Wanderers tells the story of two married couples, separated by time but connected in a way that becomes clear a few scenes into the play. Esther (Lea Kalisch) and Schmuli (Avi Aharoni) barely know each other when they marry in their Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn in the 1970s. Sophie (Lynda J. Dahl) and Abe (Tony Larkin) grew up together in Albany, their mothers best friends, their marriage inevitable. They're both writers, Abe more successful than Sophie, and after years of marriage and two children, out of boredom or the thrill of the forbidden, Abe starts up an email relationship with a movie star named Julia Cheever (Amanda Cate Fuller) who attends one of his readings. Meanwhile, Esther is chafing against the strict rules of the community, especially after visiting a friend who has left. Both couples come to a crisis point in these two interrelated stories that play out in parallel.
Abe (Tony Larkin) and Schmuli (Avi Aharoni) in separate but parallel lives (photo by Sarah Whiting)
Miriam Monasch directs the excellent five-person cast, deftly navigating the shifts in time and story. I appreciate that the relationships and situations are not clearly spelled out from the beginning, but fall into place while watching the interactions between the couples. Abe's email relationship with someone he never meets is well staged, Julia often appearing behind a scrim at center stage, sitting at a desk, their emails becoming a conversation as they speak to each other while looking out into the audience. All of the actors give great performances, expressing the inner conflict of each fully rounded character. Tony Larkin is particularly lovely as Abe, at the center of the stories, with an existential crisis that feels excruciatingly real.
Dear Julia... Tony Larkin with Amanda Cate Fuller, (photo by Sarah Whiting)
The story plays out on a mostly bare stage, with a raised platform in the center (behind which is the movie star hidden behind a scrim) and Abe's desk on one side. The paneled backdrop is covered with written pages, books being a common theme in both stories. Abe and Sophie are dressed in modern casual chic clothing, Schmuli and Esther in the traditional dress of the Hasidic Jewish community, accentuating their outward differences. Scenes are separated by quick blackouts, the story told in chapters as displayed on the scrim, marking the movement through the story. (Scenic design by Rick Polenek, costume design by A. Emily Heaney, lighting design by Todd M. Reemtsma.)
The Wanderers is an engrossing story, and you get really caught up in these characters' lives and want them to be happy, even if they're making some poor choices in life. There are several discussions about happiness itself, and how we know if we're happy, and if that's even a question that's worth asking. The play explores what it is that we inherit from our parents vs. the life we choose to make for ourselves, reminding me a little of the recent movie As They Made Us (written and directed by Mayim Bialik of TV sitcom fame). Each of us is what our parents made us, but can we find freedom within that to create our own identity and life?
These are the questions you may ponder after seeing the wonderful new play The Wanderers.