Anna Ziegler’s beautiful and riveting new play peels away the window dressing of two seemingly disparate Jewish marriages—one secular, the other Hasidic—to reveal the unseen commonalities that bind the two couples together, with a startling twist that explodes in emotion, the audience learning all is not as it appears to be.
Stifled by the roles that gender norms have allotted them, wives Esther (Dina Thomas) and Sophie (Kathryn Tkel) seek ways to create more meaningful lives, efforts that ultimately threaten the status quo of the communities they inhabit and the marriages they entered—both women divulging the intense desperation they feel at being trapped in relationships that demand, in both overt and subtle ways, that they subjugate their ambitions to their husband’s demands.
If you love great theatre, you must see “The Wanderers.” Without a doubt, it is one of the best plays on offer this season.
Husbands Schmuli (Jamie Smithson) and Abe (Alexander Strain) also make decisions that threaten to upend their lives, one in keeping with the culture he was raised in, the other driven by the trauma inherited as a result of a tumultuous break with that same culture.
Director Amber McGinnis has assembled a brilliant cast. Strain (Abe) draws the audience into Abe’s tormented inner world, awash in guilt and self-loathing, and Tessa Klein (Julia) deftly projects a subtle detachment, the meaning of which becomes clear as the truth is revealed. Kathryn Tkel (Sophie) embodies the angst and disappointment of a mid-life crisis, communicating both heartbreak and spirited defiance, and Dina Thomas (Esther) alternately provides some of the play’s most stirring moments as well as frequent comic relief. Jamie Smithson (Schmuli) delivered such a convincing performance that he almost seemed to have walked straight out of a Hasidic community and onto the stage.
Andrew R. Cohen’s (scenic design) set is awash in light but sparse—a simple bench serving as the only prop. Heather Lockard’s (costume design) costumes serve to provide an authenticity to the proceedings with her detailed attention to the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in dress among characters living in very different worlds.
Witty and moving, this is a story about good people trying to do their best, but coming up short, something we can all understand. If you love great theatre, you must see “The Wanderers.” Without a doubt, it is one of the best plays on offer this season.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
“The Wanderers” runs through March 15 at Theatre J, Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th Street, NW Washington, DC 20036. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.