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Searching for meaning

By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review 

“There is always a suspicion … that one is living a lie or a mistake; that something crucially important has been overlooked, missed, neglected, left untried and unexplored.”

—Esther Perel

Is anyone really happy? Or is man preprogrammed to forever look for something else, something more, something different? And is that nagging gap between what we have and what we think we want even real?

(l to r) Daniel Eric Gold as Abe, Janie Brookshire as Julia Cheever, Ali Rose Dachis as Esther, Dave Klasko as Schmuli, and Michelle Beck as Sophie (Photos by Jim Cox)

The search for meaning is the major theme of Anna Ziegler’s engaging and fascinating “The Wanderers,” in its world premiere through May 6 at The Old Globe’s White Theatre. The show is helmed by The Old Globe’s artistic director Barry Edelstein.

Ziegler, whose play “The Last Match” debuted at the Globe a few seasons ago, takes a similar approach here, giving us a glimpse into the lives of two widely divergent couples.

Newlyweds Esther (Ali Rose Dachis) and Schmuli (Dave Klasko) are Orthodox Jews trying to navigate that awkward first night — and later, the meaning of Hasidic orthodoxy and woman’s place in it. In a larger sense, they search for what it means to be Jewish.

(l to r) Dave Klasko and Ali Rose Dachi (Photo by Jim Cox)

The other pair is secular. Abe (Daniel Eric Gold) is a successful novelist and nonobservant Jew while his wife Sophie (Michelle Beck) is half Caucasian/Jewish and half African-American. Sophie, who has published one book that wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, is beginning to question whether she’s a writer.

Meanwhile, Abe begins to question the life he’s living and wishes his dad had been more prominent in his life.

There’s a fifth character here too: Julia Cheever (Janie Brookshire). Cheever is a movie star Abe met on one of his book tours, who later emails the writer. They have become email pals, much to Sophie’s annoyance, though she is trying to believe there’s no more to it than that.

This is one of the most inventive stagings ever seen at the White Theatre, each couple often acting as if alone, as well as overlapping with the others both spatially and conversationally, sometimes operating from the stage, other times from the aisles. The White Theatre’s stage area sports a huge rectangular table. Here the couples eat, talk, sit, argue and even stretch, as the script requires.

Gold’s Abe starts out the most certain of himself — until a family emergency puts him in a more pensive mode.

Sophie has found that it’s hell being a frustrated writer. Being married to a successful one doesn’t help her confidence level, and neither does Abe’s pen pal Julia. But Beck is convincing — even heartbreaking — as Sophie, dealing with all this and continuing to try to reach Abe.

Brookshire’s Julia seems to be just what Abe’s mind’s doctor ordered. She’s beautiful, funny, smart and, best of all, likes him.

Dachis and Klasko seem totally natural and real as Esther and Schmuli, navigating the difficulties of maintaining Jewish Orthodoxy in an increasingly secular world.

Ziegler has a way with engaging dialogue that keeps this from becoming either a ’60s-style encounter group session or a stuffy philosophical discourse about meaning. Yet, she still leaves you with many things to think about.

You may want to grab a few friends and head for the coffee shop after your encounter with “The Wanderers.”

— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at infodame@cox.net.

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