Home at Last

With a play about Wandering, Julie Marie Myatt finally puts down roots

The play's heart, however, came from Myatt's desire to explore a real American theme after spending two years researching the Cambodian sex-slave industry. "I've always been drawn to that iconic American who wants to travel across the country and find himself. In our culture, there are tons of these wandering guys. Clint Eastwood has played him how many times? John Wayne. Shane. They've been part of America forever."

But while we mythologize the high-plains drifter and the air-conditioned gypsies in literature, film and song, when it comes to real-life Emmetts, relationships are far more complex.

Myatt admits to having dated a few Emmetts in her time, as well as having an ongoing love affair with road trips. "I think a lot of people can be very upset with characters like this. They don't understand people who seem to have everything and then blow it off. If you have a little wanderlust yourself, you do understand it. If you don't, it seems trivial or irresponsible. And a lot of people get genuinely angry or resentful: Why do they get to not have any responsibility?"

Ultimately, however, My Wandering Boy isn't about Emmett as much as people's memories of him, which adds an entirely different layer to what is, on the surface, a detective story about a missing person.

And it is precisely the multilayered aspect of the writing that hooked Rauch from the moment he began reading. "I think it's an astonishing play because it's so mysterious and elusive," he says. "It's very subtle, and while there's great humor in it, there's also a huge streak of melancholy and longing. The emotional life of this play is palpable because it's really all about family and the complicated motivations behind why people do things and how they're never as straightforward or simple as they seem on the surface."

My Wandering Boy at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555; www.scr.org. Opens Fri. Tues., 7:30 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Through May 6. $28-$60.

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