Writer’s Work Returning to Theatre Ariel

Anna Ziegler (Photo by Jessica Nash)

In her last Theatre Ariel production just before the pandemic, Deborah Baer Mozes put on “Dov and Ali,” a show about the relationship between an Orthodox Jewish teacher and his Muslim student.

The founding artistic director of the Main Line-based salon theater company loved that play because of its writer: New York City-based Anna Ziegler. As Baer Mozes recalled, “Dov and Ali” had distinct characters, dialogue that drew you into their stories and journeys that kept you interested.

Ziegler, according to Baer Mozes, could engross you “in a matter of moments.”

“I fell in love with her work,” the director added.

So, almost two years later, with Theatre Ariel back open in person at local synagogues, Baer Mozes is putting on another Ziegler production.

“The Wanderers,” the playwright’s most recent work, about a Satmar Chasidic couple whose marriage was arranged and a Jewish secular couple who have been friends since childhood, will premiere on Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. at Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood.

Another in-person performance will follow at the same place the next day but at 2 p.m. The run will conclude with two virtual shows the following week on Feb. 26 and 27. For tickets, visit theatreariel.org.

Ziegler’s latest work explores how two couples who are so different on the surface can be quite similar when you dig into their stories and conflicts.

“There is much that binds these couples in a play of twists and turns about human nature, marriage and what we neglect to see,” reads a play description from a Theatre Ariel press release.

“The Wanderers” will appear in the Philadelphia suburbs before its Off-Broadway run in January 2023.

Baer Mozes called the play “exquisite.”

“Because she’s such a skillful writer, you really get to feel the pain of the struggle in very down-to-earth ways,” the director added.

After the local run of “Dov and Ali” in February 2020, Baer Mozes started looking into Ziegler’s oeuvre. She learned of “The Wanderers” because it was completing a run at Theater J in Washington, D.C., around the same time.

More than a year later, in the spring of 2021, the director got a copy of the script from the Alliance for Jewish Theatre, “an international network of Jewish theatres and theatre artists,” according to its website. Baer Mozes was in the process of planning her 2021-’22 season and needed shows.

She began reading and fell in love with Ziegler’s words all over again.

“After the first paragraph, I was there,” the director said.

Baer Mozes contacted Ziegler about producing the show, and Ziegler, for her part, was excited; Theatre Ariel had put on one of her plays before and now it wanted to put on another.

But there was an issue: The Roundabout Theatre Co. held the rights and planned to produce the show Off-Broadway last spring.

“I didn’t think we were going to get it,” Baer Mozes said.

Yet she kept calling Ziegler’s agent, once, then twice. He said he needed to reach out to Roundabout, which had not yet opened the show.

Finally, last summer, on Baer Mozes’ third call, Ziegler’s agent informed her that Roundabout had granted permission.

“I was ecstatic,” Baer Mozes said.

A performance of Anna Ziegler’s last play to run at Theatre Ariel, “Dov and Ali,” in February 2020. (Courtesy of Rebecca Cureton)

Ziegler was, too. Though she’s now working on scripts for HBO Max and Apple TV, she still considers herself a playwright first and foremost. It’s just been hard to get any work to the stage during the pandemic years.

The playwright is not planning on attending the run because she’s still being careful about avoiding the virus. She also said she doesn’t love watching her plays on Zoom.

But she is grateful.

“It’s just nice, especially during a pandemic, people are still out there reading your work and want to make it happen,” Ziegler said.

Theatre Ariel’s most recent play of the 2021-’22 season, “The Sabbath Girl” by Cary Gitter, drew in-person crowds of 41 and 35 people, respectively, during its run back in December.

Baer Mozes expects a similar audience for “The Wanderers,” even though, as COVID continues, salon theater fans are waiting until the last few days to buy tickets.

“We have a very loyal audience,” Baer Mozes said.

The salon theater has the same COVID protocols as it did at the end of 2021. Audience members must show proof of vaccination at the door and wear masks during the

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