Regional Reviews: San Diego
In The Last Match, which enjoyed a limited run last fall at New York's Roundabout Theatre, the subject was tennis. Two couples, one including a top-rated men's player and the other including an up-and-coming men's player, coped in contrasting ways with the pressures of celebrity in professional sports, including pressures on the couples' relationships.
In The Wanderers, there are also two couples, one a pair of Orthodox Jews in an arranged marriage, and the other a pair of fiction writers (he has received acclaim for his work and she has not). The Orthodox couple, Esther (Ali Rose Dachis) and Schmuli (Dave Klasko), struggle with making the marriage work on a personal and familial level and with the religious expectations they live under. The secular couple, Sophie (Michelle Beck) and Abe (Daniel Eric Gold), struggle with similar issues, except that their struggles are set against a framework of the expectations of a secular society.
There is also an interloper, a well-known and beautiful actress named Julia Cheever (Janie Brookshire). She turns up at one of Abe's readings and sits conspicuously in the front row of the audience. Following the reading, Abe receives an email from her, is flattered, responds to it, and sets in motion an email relationship that will affect both his individual life and his marriage.
So, there's a double whammy of celebrity going on: Abe has experienced celebrity for his writing and hopes there is more to come (and fears he might not be able to replicate past success). Julia Cheever is, in many ways, a fantasy character Abe has created, despite the reality of the email exchanges. He hopes that the fact that a movie star is paying attention to him will mean that her celebrity will somehow rub off on him.
As the stories of the two couples progress they become intertwined thematically and unveil similarity as well as contrast. Ms. Ziegler provides rich, funny, and satisfying portrayals of the relationships, and the details are so compelling that they leave audiences gasping at times, nodding in agreement at others.
Part of the credit goes to the central performance by Mr. Gold as Abe. Laid back and likeable, he's also caught up in himself and worries about his marriage and his dreams of what may yet come. The other cast members make for a fine ensemble, but none of them have the advantage of centrality. If there's such a thing as a millennial generation Everyman, Ms. Ziegler has created it in Abe, and Mr. Gold embodies her creation.
Director Barry Edelstein has set the production around a long table, where people gather, work, and sometimes eat. The table is also sometimes used as a stage, or a barrier. All of these uses align well with Ms. Ziegler´s themes (Marion Williams is credited with the scenic design). David Israel Reynoso's costumes provide contrast between the religious and secular worlds of the play, and Amanda Zieve's lighting design both illumines and hides as needed. Jane Shaw's sound design is admirable for not calling attention to itself.
The Wanderers represents a big step forward for Ms. Ziegler as a playwright, and Globe audiences should find themselves enthralled with what she has wrought.
The Wanderers, through May 8, 2018, at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on The Old Globe's campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Performances are Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, and weekend matinees at 2pm. Tickets are available by calling (619) 234-5623 or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org . The performance runs 100 minutes with no intermission.