Jesse Eisenberg, Vanessa Redgrave star in not-quite-there 'The Revisionist'
Eisenberg's play, at Cherry Lane Theatre in the West Village, seems a small venue for the Tony and Oscar-winning actress who has played Broadway repeatedly, most recently in "Driving Miss Daisy."
As always, Redgrave is glorious. Her Polish accent is spot-on (she also talks in Polish a few times), and when she gestures with her hands up, saying "shah," it has such a feel of authenticity that anyone who has ever had an older Polish woman tell them to shush will automatically zip it.
Eisenberg plays a blocked writer, David, who is six weeks overdue with revisions on his book. He's twitchy, self-absorbed and graceless. He's also smart, critical and sharp, not unlike Eisenberg's character of Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network."
Eisenberg has been working as a playwright, and he has painted a somewhat believable situation. The unspoken, behind-the-scenes grumbling in some circles regards Redgrave playing a Jew, which she has done flawlessly before. Some Jews harbor long-standing resentment over her support of Palestinians and the ruckus at the 1977 Oscars.
On stage, all that is evident is that Redgrave is remarkable as Maria, David's cousin in Poland. Living in her small apartment, Maria makes it seem perfectly plausible that as a child, she had not left her babysitter's apartment for four years, riding out the war there.
Maria's family was killed. Her 10-year-old brother was shot in the face in front of her because he sneezed on a Nazi. A widow who never had children, she's achingly lonely.
David has come to Poland to try to find the focus that eluded him in the States. He needs a muse and a place to write. He could also stand some compassion, patience and manners.
Superficially, his lack of manners does him in, but that's not the only reason Maria has enough of him. He is, as she tells him, a poor guest and not a very likable person. All true.
Having no other family, Maria clings to those she barely knows. On her walls, she hangs photos of distant American cousins, including David. She needs those photos to feel some semblance of family. As important as those in the photos are to her, they barely know of her existence, but she needs to share what she knows with David.
David has no use for his relatives or her stories until, of course, it is too late. Though I won't divulge the ending, it is safe to say the last scenes feel illogical in an otherwise good play.
That means it is still a story worth telling and seeing, but "The Revisionist" would be even better with a few revisions of its own.