The Wanderers’ nuanced performances

We meet ultra-Orthodox couple Esther (Tali Osadchy) and Shmuli (Henry David) just after their arranged marriage.

The Wanderers  (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Wanderers
(photo credit: Courtesy)
By Anna Ziegler
Translated by Roy Chen
Directed by Amir. I. Wolf
Gesher Theater, January 28
What makes us tick? Why do we do what we do? How come we’re at once transparent and opaque? Can we really say of somebody, “I know you”? Aren’t there things we keep to ourselves, deep within the crannies of the heart?
The Wanderers, Anna Ziegler’s very accomplished, tightly knit Chinese puzzle box of a play takes a step or two toward telling us because, in its essence, Wanderers is a play about love, about intimacy, about levels of intimacy among two seemingly disparate sets of people, and therefore, perhaps, among us all.
We meet ultra-Orthodox couple Esther (Tali Osadchy) and Shmuli (Henry David) just after their arranged marriage. Each is holding one end of a black ribbon (the ties that bind?). They have not yet consummated their marriage. We meet ultra-Secular Sophie (Netta Shpiegelman) and Abe (Shlomi Bertonov) at a perilous moment in their not unfraught marriage. Both are celebrity authors. Then Abe’s initially impulsive online flirtation with glamorous movie star Julia Cheever (Lena Freifeld) pushes itself between them.
What subsequently occurs takes place on Michael Kramenko’s admirable set of ramps and screens under Karen Granek’s elusive, evocative lighting, as the connections among these five people slowly emerge.
Mr. Wolf has directed his actors as if in a series of screen close-ups, and they have responded with passionate, precisely nuanced performances that receive the audience’s absolute, totally focused attention.
“When I left Brooklyn, I thought I’d broken through the fence,” says Esther to Shmuli at once point, “but I find it’s inside me.” Osadchy’s Esther is multi-dimensional, at once fearful and courageous, pliant and adamant, hesitant and determined. As Shmuli, David is both a devout and unbending adherent of his traditions, yet willy-nilly starts to question them because he loves, and to him that love is holy.
Bertonov’s Abe (Bertonov also wrote the music for the play), runs the gamut from near abject fear to brashness, as he strives to communicate, to acknowledge his heart. “Of course I hide things from myself,” he says to Sophie, whom Shpiegelman portrays with humor, guts, confidence and lack of it. Freifeld’s sensual Julia is part real, part goddess, part illusion.
 This thoughtful, well-produced The Wanderers is a treat – perhaps a signpost – for the eyes and the heart.