Theater review by David Cote. Cherry Lane Theatre. By Jesse Eisenberg. Dir. Kip Fagan. With Vanessa Redgrave, Eisenberg, Daniel Oreskes. 1hr 45mins. No intermission.
With 2011’s Asuncion and now The Revisionist, writer-actor Jesse Eisenberg is diligently building a body of work. And a curious body it is: concave, jittery, slight but prone to violent spasms. I’m talking, of course, about Eisenberg’s slip-thin physicality and slippy vibe, but the descriptors also apply to his compact dramas of privilege, prejudice and contempt. Eisenberg’s characters tend either to maintain elaborate delusions or cruelly disabuse other people of theirs.
For the new offering, Eisenberg and director Kip Fagan scored a coup: Film and stage eminence Vanessa Redgrave takes on the role of Maria, Polish, seventyish Holocaust survivor and second cousin to David (Eisenberg), an American author. David has arrived in the port city of Szczecin as a last-chance writer’s retreat, to finish revising his second novel, a science-fiction tale called Mindreader. It doesn’t take telepathic skills to know how this will play out: The selfish and casually insulting Yank will irritate and be irritated by his sweet but strong-willed relative; they will bond; she will talk about the Holocaust; and he will not get any work done. There’s also a big reveal, handled with admirable restraint.
This moody, neorealistic play exists as much in awkward or pensive silences as in well-honed speeches and humorous one-liners. Fagan and his cast (including the vibrant, earthy Oreskes as a gruff taxi driver) inhabit every corner of Maria’s dusty, cluttered apartment. Redgrave naturally commands our empathy as the putative moral center of the piece, while Eisenberg’s jelly-spined agonies are reliably fun. Good roommates they’re not, but it’s touching to see them share emotional space.—David Cote
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