Sophie’s Choice – a review of “The Wanderers”

by Michael Buzzelli

An acclaimed author, Abe (Jed Resnick), begins a premature mid-life crisis with a virtual bang when he ignores his wife, Sophie (Allison Strickland), and obsesses over a famous movie star, Julia (Sarah Goeke), in Anna Ziegler’s “The Wanderers.”

Flashback to Brooklyn, Hassidic Jews, Esther (Moira Quigley) and Schmuli (Nick Lehane), navigate the parameters of their arranged marriage.

“The Wanderers” is set in two separate time periods. The action with Esther and Schmuli spans a swath of time between 1973 through 1982, while Abe and Sophie’s story is closer to the present.

After the birth of her children, Esther is unfulfilled. She wants to expand her life outside of the Hassidic community, even though it’s forbidden. Her conversations with her husband turn awkward.

Abe (Jed Resnick) gets an email from Julia (not pictured) as Sophie (Allison Strickland) looks on in “The Wanderers.” Photo credit: Kristi Jan Hoover.

Meanwhile, Abe’s online dalliance with Julia takes a surprising turn, and Sophie makes a difficult choice. She decides to take the kids and leave her husband.

Note: In the first few sentences in the show, Sophie announces that she’s leaving Abe, and technically not a spoiler, though it does punctuate her monologue with an exclamation point.

The show weaves into some unexpected territory.  Without spoiling the story, there is a clear connection between the parallel storylines.

Esther (Moria Quigley) negotiates with Schmuli (Nick Lehane) while folding clothes. Photo credit: Kristi Jan Hoover.

“The Wanderers” is moving, funny and has a few jaw-dropping moments. Ziegler writes some complex characters with complex problems.

Side note: Ziegler also wrote “The Last Match,” which was beautifully performed at the City Theatre several years ago.

“The Wanderers” is a very smart show. Sometimes too smart. Gold stars for anyone who can decipher all of the literary references.

Pet peeve: There is a plethora of writers talking about writing. It gets a little “inside baseball,” but it may be more interesting to audience members who aren’t authors and playwrights. Luckily, a fine-tuned and compelling cast rise above any irritations.

Resnick is terrific as the neurotic protagonist (there is some reluctance to refer to him as the hero of the story).  He hits the humor in a natural, nuanced way.  Bon mots drip out casually from his mouth.

Strickland plays all the various layers of Sophie’s character.

Quigley is a joy to watch. She plays Esther like a wounded bird who is getting ready to fly again.

Goeke is charismatic and stunningly beautiful, traits befitting her role as the mysterious movie star.

Lehane manages to make a line, “Let us commence” seem hilarious.

Hint: It’s all about the context.

Lehane brings a lot of charm to the laconic Schmuli, even after he pulls a vile stunt that caused the audience to audibly gasp.

Though the play is mostly dialogue, Director Collette Robert keeps the action moving at a quick pace. Ziegler’s tight script doesn’t leave much room for lollygagging.

Anne Mundell’s set is sparse, but clever and expertly utilized by Lighting Designer Natalie Robin.  All the action takes place around a sturdy wooden table. There are a limited number of props, but terrific costumes by Mindy Eshelman.  Schmuli’s Hassidic headgear is amazing. His wedding hat is a marvel to behold.

But Lehane’s costume isn’t the only one to admire. To crib from Ziegler, Goeke is luminescent in her sparkling silver dress in the final moments of the show.

It might be time to wander down to the Southside and catch “The Wanderers.”

– MB

“The Wanderers” runs until December 18 at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203For more information, click here

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