Off-Broadway Review: THE WANDERERS (Roundabout Theatre Company at Laura Pels Theater)

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by Paulanne Simmons on February 16, 2023

in Theater-New York


The Wanderers, the new play by Anna Ziegler (Boy, A Delicate Ship, The Last Match, Another Way Home) now making its New York premiere with The Roundabout Theatre Company, comprises three intersecting stories.

The first story takes place in the past. It’s about the marriage of orthodox Jews Schmuli (Dave Klasko) and Esther (Lucy Freyer), a marriage that ends in separation and heartbreak when Schmuli removes the couple’s daughters from the household to protect them from Esther’s blasphemous influence.

Eddie Kaye Thomas (Abe) and Sarah Cooper (Sophie)

The second story takes place in the present. Esther and Schmuli’s son, Abe (Eddie Kaye Thomas), who had stayed with his mother, is now grown. Years ago, he married Sophie (Sarah Cooper), mostly at the urging of his mother. And now their marriage, on the surface happy, is simmering with discontent.

The third story takes place in the virtual world. After a brief meeting at a reading of his latest book, Abe starts an email correspondence with Julia Cheever (Katie Holmes), a famous actress. He sits in front of the computer, pouring out his heart, while Julia (perhaps in his mind) replies with timid encouragement.

Katie Holmes (Julia Cheever) and Eddie Kaye Thomas (Abe)

The three stories unravel somewhat like a mystery, which means there’s a delicate balance between writing enough about the play and not spoiling the ending. This ending is unexpected and clever.

Despite Barry Edelstein’s capable direction, aided by Kenneth Posner’s lighting design, it takes a while to adjust to the shifts in time and place. Marion Williams’ nondescript set (a long table and chairs in front of walls covered with book pages) does little to establish context.

Katie Holmes (Julia Cheever), Lucy Freyer (Esther), Eddie Kaye Thomas (Abe),
Sarah Cooper (Sophie), and Dave Klasko (Schmuli)

But the real problem is Ziegler’s writing. None of the stories is explored in depth. Sophie, who is also a writer, as well as a mother and wife, is especially underdeveloped.

The acting is mostly restrained. However, Klasko and Feyer do occasionally engage us emotionally. But for the most part, The Wanderers is an intellectual endeavor. If Abe had gone to see a therapist instead of embarking on a year and a half relationship with a woman he doesn’t know, the play would have probably come to the same conclusion.

It’s easy to come away from The Wanderers greatly impressed. But clever is not brilliant.

Eddie Kaye Thomas (Abe) and Katie Holmes (Julia Cheever)

photos by Joan Marcus

The Wanderers
Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theater
Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46 St.
run time: one hour 45 minutes, no intermission
ends on April 2, 2023
for tickets visit Roundabout

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