Vanessa Redgrave & Jesse Eisenberg
Sandra Coudert
by: Sandi Durell
Most of us are familiar with Jesse Eisenberg for his portrayal as Mark Zuckerberg in the film The Social Network, and some for his first entre as a playwright with last season’s Asuncion as part of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. This latest endeavor at the Cherry Lane Theatre puts a new spin on self-absorption and downright nasty behavior as Eisenberg portrays David, a young 20 something blocked sci-fi writer. So he flys from New York City all the way to a small town in Szczecin, Poland to stay with a distant cousin, whom he met once as a child, for seclusion.
Cousin Maria, a 70+ year old Holocaust survivor, is excited at finally having company and especially family visiting. She also happens to be one terrific actress – Vanessa Redgrave!

To see her perform in the shabby apartment setting (perfectly captured by John McDermott), replete with every detail imaginable; numerous photos of family members, many of whom she’s never even met, is a joy to behold, as she gives insight into this woman’s lonely life and the important connection she has to family.

On the other hand, this young jerky kid has no connection other than to his immediate needs of finding a place to revise his book, and relax smoking some marijuana. His lack of respect is highlighted as he plops on her bed with his dirty sneakers still on. His physical twitchy gestures make for distraction.

It is obvious he doesn’t like to be touched when Maria tries to reach out to him with loving gestures.

She has prepared a chicken dinner only to be told “I don’t eat flesh.” David is condescending, insolent and a character we would generally abhor.

In the mix is Maria’s taxi driver, Vodka loving friend Zenon (Daniel Oreskes), who seemingly has a mother-son fixation, as we see him shaving Maria’s legs (something he used to do for his dead mother) prompting words of disgust from David. This is also an unforgettable moment! As Zenon and Maria speak in Polish, David has already taken an immediate dislike to him, creating lots of humor as they teach each other some chosen words in Polish and English.

As Maria and David dine over tofu, a replacement dinner, they drink lots of vodka, enabling her to reveal the horrors of her younger life during the Holocaust and a secret that changes David’s perspective, which is a pivotal turn in the play’s direction.

We also see the shift in Maria’s behavior toward David as she realizes his lack of humanity and caring towards family or anything much other than his own needs. To her, the family she never had is everything and the reason why she holds the photographs so dear. As David continues to belittle everything in his narcissistic manner, her attitude towards him changes dramatically as she ushers him out of her apartment for an earlier departure back to America.

It is this quick turnaround that needs another look by Eisenberg, the writer, as it comes off too abruptly and requires more fleshing out.

The play is directed by Kip Fagan who also directed Asuncion and has been extended thru April 27th. If you can score yourself a ticket, it would be worthwhile especially to see Ms. Redgrave ply the tools of her trade.

An extra added plus the night I attended was seeing Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz sitting directly behind me!

“The Revisionist” – Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St, NYC