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The Wanderer

by Les Gutman

South Side Cafe in the Theater District

Life goes to the ones who live.
Seth Kanor and Amelia Campbell
S. Kanor and A. Campbell (Photo: David Gochfeld)
The title character of Dmitry Lipkin's new play, which is receiving a well-considered off-night production at the Flea, is nothing if not an enigma. Is he supernatural, or a superb con-artist? Is he suffering the consequences of having fallen "very far... and very hard"? It doesn't matter really; and Lipkin doesn't give us any hints. Set in New York's Russian-American community, this chameleon-like wanderer, Pasha (Seth Kanor), is right in the middle of the action, and yet not really there at all. There is a sad but very real parable here, infused with charm, humor and even some intrigue.

Pasha drops, quite literally, into the lives of Shura (Amelia Campbell), and her boyfriend, Boris (Chris Kipiniak). Shura, once a dermatologist, is now a manicurist; Boris, once a paratrooper, is now an enforcer for the loan-sharking operations of a Russian mafia boss (Stan Lachow). Boris' grandmother (Irma St. Paule) sells Russian drugs from a pushcart. How does Pasha fit into this? It's worth seeing the show to find out.

Lipkin's telling of this story is astutely crafted, and his dialogue is always sharp. He gets sidetracked some when other characters come into the mix -- there is a cast of eight -- and he never really justifies their presence. This is particularly true of Boris' brother, Andre (Matthew Dellapina), whose only real purpose seems to be supplying half of a terrific duet with Pasha in the second act. (Yes, the show includes two songs -- the other sung in the first act by Ms. St. Paule -- and boasts a DJ (Brian Gottesman) as well.) The final character is Boris' sidekick, who has the peculiarly non-Russian name, Jackson (Larry Bloch). Some tightening and/or fleshing out would make this into a play I could unreservedly commend.

Director Adam Melnick has assembled a very fine cast, and has providing a staging which is very much in synch with the show's tone. All of the show's design elements are also intelligent.

Mr. Kanor is alternately charming, endearing and menacing. As his foil (more or less), Mr. Kipiniak is especially effective in conveying the sense of a Russian immigrant who is fighting hard to find his way in America without a great quantity of grace to fall back on. Ms. Campbell is a fine actress who understands Shura's nature even if she hasn't quite the same facility with the Russian dialect that Kipiniak displays. One of the real joys of this production is the excellent work displayed by the older cast members: Ms. St Paule as the priceless babushka, Mr. Block as the smarter and funnier half of the keystone cops duo he makes up with Boris and Mr. Lachow as the dapper, combustible Boss. Matthew Dellapina is as impressive as he can be in a role that is somewhat thankless, and Mr. Gottesman does well as both the onstage musician/DJ and also as the "voice" of the Mexican soap opera to which Shura is oddly addicted.

Playwrights are always told "write what you know," and it's clear Mr. Lipkin succeeds by doing so, and marrying it with a healthy dose of imagination.

Dmitry Lipkin's Cranes

The Wanderer
by Dmitry Lipkin
Music by Brian Gottesman, Lyrics by Mssrs. Gottesman and Lipkin
Directed by Adam Melnick
with Seth Kanor, Irma St. Paule, Amelia Campbell, Chris Kipiniak, Larry Block, Matthew Dellapina, Brian Gottesman and Stan Lachow
Set Design: Nathan Heverin
Lighting Design: Doug Filomena
Costume Design: Natasha Landau
Sound Design: Ann Warren
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes with 1 intermission
The Flea Theatre, 41 White Street (Church/Broadway)
Telephone (212) 414-7773
SUN - TUES @7, SUN @3; $15
Opening July 11, 2004, closing July 27, 2004
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 7/5/04 performance
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