From one writer to another: I feel David’s pain — the character played by Jesse Eisenberg in his new play, The Revisionist, which opened last night at the Cherry Lane Theatre. He has arrived in Szczecin, Poland with a debilitating case of writer’s block and has made arrangements to shack up with his 75-year-old second cousin Maria, played by a transformative Vanessa Redgrave.
Eisenberg, known for his Oscar-nominated performance in The Social Network, has been flexing his own writing muscles for some time, having written and starred in Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s Asuncion. He is also a contributing writer for McSweeney’s and his essays have appeared in Harper’s and The New York Times. While most Hollywood elite would sow their theatrical oats in a more commercial career-driving Broadway production, Eisenberg is slowly and meticulously honing his craft as a playwright.
And who needs Broadway when you have a co-star like Vanessa Redgrave to illuminate the theater? The pair could have been performing the play in the back alley and Redgrave would easily captivate passers by. As a Holocaust survivor with a complicated post-war past, Redgrave nails the thick Polish accent and embodies John McDermott’s tenement-style set as if she had been living there for decades.
And then there’s the play. Eisenberg’s riffs on family are filled with the usual generational and cultural misgivings. While delivered with dexterity by both him and Redgrave, the play rarely gains momentum and instead, feels like well-executed character studies. Eisenberg’s David is a wiry, tense New Yorker with a penchant for marijuana and hair tousling. His comedic timing is undeniable, though his thin vocal range seems more suited to film than stage. Redgrave, on the other hand, runs the gamut — from kicking back vodka shots and a hilarious first taste of tofu to her harrowing account of deportation during the height of World War II — one can’t help but fall under her spell.
At 179 seats, the Cherry Lane Theatre is the perfect venue for the play and a rare opportunity to see the six-time Oscar-nominated Redgrave up close and personal. In fact, it’s a privilege. While The Revisionist may need its own revision or two, it provides a suitable outlet for one of the greatest actresses for our time and a training ground for Eisenberg, whose multi-talented pursuits are sure to become even more developed in the years to come.
Presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Extended through April 21
Here’s what the critics are saying…
“Whispering and chiding in unintelligible but unmistakably gleeful language, and laughing with the sybaritic delight of someone indulging in a special treat, Ms. Redgrave spins a complete and compelling vision of one woman’s world, as familiar to her as it is exotic to us. And she occupies it with an assurance that makes us feel like humble, highly privileged trespassers.” The New York Times
“Eisenberg ends his play far too abruptly, with a surprise decision that feels forced and implausible because the motivations that would justify such a rash action haven’t been sufficiently developed. Unfortunately, The Revisionist could really use one of its own.” Entertainment Weekly
“Redgrave and Eisenberg make a surprisingly savory stage pair. Her deep, dogged characterization sinks into the molten Play-Doh of his natural squirminess; his evasions parry her attacks. The chemistry is very much alive … but it has nowhere to go.” Vulture
“One must applaud Eisenberg for presenting Redgrave, as well as audiences, with the delicious gift of the role of Maria. But while The Revisionist goes down easily enough, once you’ve swallowed it, you may wish that you could have exchanged it for something more substantial.” TheaterMania