Jesse Eisenberg mocks PC pieties in his smart, cringe-comedy debut.
Fri Oct 28 2011
Photograph: Sandra Coudert
Asuncion at Cherry Lane Theatre
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
They say that travel broadens the mind, but globe-trotting appears to have retarded Edgar (Eisenberg), a limply leftist Gen Y emo-twit who once spent two days on layover in Cambodia. From this Third World toe dip, Edgar has appointed himself an anti-imperialist crusader and speak-truth-to-power journalist (well, blogger). When Asuncion (Mana), the sweet, Filipina wife of Edgar's stock-trader brother (Auberjonois), crashes with Edgar for a couple of days, our squirrelly hero concocts a mission: She's Asian, his brother's a macho jerk, so it must follow that Asuncion is a mail-order bride/sex slave. Edgar will liberate her through reportage.
This thin premise, sprung from Edgar's borderline-racist assumptions and naive political pretensions, is the engine that drives the manic and very funny first act of Eisenberg's Asuncion. The performer, exposing the comic underside of his cerebral, id-driven cipher-creep in The Social Network, deftly reveals Edgar as a passive-aggressive narcissist whose lavish sympathy for the developing world's poor is a form of moral masturbation. Edgar's roommate, white African studies professor Vinny (Bartha), sees that his friend's act is phony, but a mixture of contempt and affection (theirs is a textbook toxic bromance) forestalls honesty.
Eisenberg's tumbling, barbed dialogue and ability to keep his characters on the humane side of caricature are so economical and assured, it's sad when the second act goes pear-shaped. The author relies on two shopworn devices—the offstage MacGuffin and the introduction of drugs to catalyze truth-telling—and both ratchet down the comic stakes. Still, the actors all glow under Kip Fagan's breezy direction in this Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre production. Eisenberg is a particular joy to watch: splaying his spindly frame over a beanbag or retracting his pelvis concavely as he hugs his too-sexy sister-in-law. Here's a writer-actor whose body is also a parenthesis.