Aimless Ambling in THE WANDERERS — Review
The famous writer Abe is faulted for not writing likable characters early in The Wanderers, a tedious play receiving its New York premiere at one of Roundabout’s off-Broadway venues, and I thought about the one other work I’d seen from Anna Ziegler, the playwright. No one would describe Photograph 51 or its characters as a lovable barnstormer, but the stiff dialogue and cold shoulders there made sense: it dealt with stuffy 1950s scientists trying to freeze each other out. Here, we’re presented with two couples and a movie star, all ostensibly in the middle of life-changing moments but written, (mostly) played, and directed by Barry Edelstein with a paralyzing monotony.
There’s Abe (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and his wife, the less successful writer Sophie (Sarah Cooper); their relationship (which we’re meant to care about) would be entirely characterless were it not for their shared history as children of mothers who escaped the confines of Williamsburg’s Orthodox Jewish community, and a recent case of the wandering eye, caused by a flattering email he received from movie star Julia Cheever (Katie Holmes). Abe and Julia Cheever (her full name is repeated ad nauseam) become flirty pen pals through an insufferable back-and-forth, built on the worst musings and invocations of Anna Karenina, Yeats and Philip Roth one could imagine, and Sophie is understandably annoyed.
And then there’s the other couple, whose connection to Abe’s story the play tries to pass off as something of a plot twist, so I’ll leave it be. But suffice it to say that Esther (Lucy Freyer) is bristling against the limitations set by her Orthodox Williamsburg world, and enforced by husband Schmuli (Dave Klasko). Ziegler’s writing comes alive in this unfortunately short-shrifted subplot, with decisive statements about organized religion, its potential use as a tool of enslavement, and the battle between individuality and parenthood. Invigorated by this, Freyer and Klasko turn in the production’s best performances, and one is left wondering why we’re made to wander through any other arc.
The Wanderers is in performance through April 2, 2023 at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre on West 46th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.