Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Everything Is Wonderful
Philadelphia Theatre Company
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Rebecca's review of Babel

Stephanie Hodge and Katie Kleiger
Photo by Mark Garvin
Everything Is Wonderful is a solemn and inspiring story about the power of forgiveness, but also its serious limitations. Director Noah Himmelstein and Chelsea Marcantel's new drama are both making their Philly debut at the Philadelphia Theatre Company's Suzanne Roberts Theatre. Himmelstein's talented crew—three members of the creative team are imported from his Everyman Theatre production—re-create a cloistered world few of us will ever see from the inside. The impressive ensemble inhabits that world with a remarkable tenderness and graceful authenticity.

"Everything is wonderful" is the heartbreaking mantra of Jacob (William Zielinski), the patriarch of a small Amish family in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. We meet Jacob, his wife Esther (Blair Sams), and their youngest daughter Ruth (Stephanie Hodge) just a month after the tragic crash that killed Jacob and Esther's two teenage sons. Intense feelings bubble beneath the surface when the alcoholic whose car swerved into their son's buggy appears unexpectedly. Those feelings become explosive when the family's estranged daughter returns home to see how her parents and little sister are coping.

Eric (J. Hernandez) comes to a stranger's house seeking punishment but finds a community unlike anything he has ever known, and forgiveness he struggles to accept. Miri (Katie Kleiger) comes home to mourn, but finds the wounds that drove her away still festering. Moving seamlessly backward and forward through time, the play cleverly reveals each character's struggles and strength. Neither idealizing nor demonizing the Amish way of life, Marcantel's nuanced script comes together with intricate beauty.

The entire cast is superb. Zielinski plays Jacob with resolute tenderness. As Esther, Sams carries herself with a quietly powerful presence, but when she explodes it is like dynamite. Hodge brings an earnest joy to the stage that is infectious. Hernandez maintains a laidback attitude that is frequently funny and appropriately jarring. Kleiger delivers a compelling blend of intelligence and vulnerability. Lucky Gretzinger displays an uncanny ability to shift imperceptibly from an attitude of boyish charm to frustrated malice.

There is an appropriate darkness hovering over the entire production. Cory Pattak's thoughtful lighting design sets the tone and effectively indicates the passage of time. Daniel Ettinger's scenic design is impressively executed and the costumes by Janus Stefanowicz are spot on.

Closer than driving to Lancaster County and more insightful than any tour, Everything Is Wonderful tells the story of a struggling family that just happens to be Amish. It is a story worth hearing and a production that should not be missed.

Everything Is Wonderful runs through March 8, 2020, at Philadelphia Theatre Company, Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit or call 215-985-0420.

J. Hernandez: Eric
William Zielinski: Jacob
Stephanie Hodge: Ruth
Lucky Gretzinger: Abram
Katie Kleiger: Miri
Bla ir Sams: Esther

Noah Himmelstein: Director
Daniel Ettinger: Scenic Design
Cory Pattak: Lighting Design
Pornchanok Kanchanabanca: Sound Designer and Composer
Janus Stefanowicz: Costume Designer
Neill Hartley: Dialect Coach
Colleen Hughes: Intimacy Coach
Eli Lynn: Fight Coach
Allison Hassman and Tori Heikenfeld: Stage Managers