David, the twentysomething intellectual played by Jesse Eisenberg in the actor-writer’s new Off Broadway play, The Revisionist, is every inch the Ugly American. He’s arrogant, he’s narcissistic, and he oozes first-world entitlement. He doesn’t know just how good he has it — and he’s gone to the unlikeliest place on the planet to catch the first glimpses that he holds a winning lottery ticket in the life sweepstakes.
Overdue in delivering revisions of his new novel and distracted by city life, David plops himself in a cramped apartment in Szczecin, Poland, the home of a distant cousin named Maria. As embodied by Vanessa Redgrave with a well-wrought accent and hard-earned professional brio, Maria is a complicated and indomitable figure — a Holocaust survivor who maintains a kind of shrine in her home to her farflung American relatives, many of whom she has met only once or twice. (David doesn’t remember her 1993 visit to his home, when he was just a boy.)
It’s a clash of cultures and generations that has the potential for real dramatic sparks — particularly with the introduction of Maria’s kindly but simple cab-driver friend (Daniel Oreskes), whose devotion to her is ambiguously portrayed as both filial and possibly romantic. As in his first play, Asuncion, also directed by Kip Fagan at the Cherry Lane, Eisenberg shows an admirable willingness to play a bright but basically unlikable (and arguably autistic) young man blinkered by his own fixations and obsessions into impulsive and thoughtless behavior.
The Revisionist, running through April 21 at Off Broadway’s 179-seat Cherry Lane Theatre, grapples with some interesting ideas about the nature of family. How much, in the end, do blood connections matter? Can we become so distracted by the idea of family that we’re disappointed by the messy reality of our actual relatives, who inevitably fall short of Sears-portrait-studio perfection? Unfortunately, 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. The Revisionist could really use one of its own. B
(Tickets: cherrylanetheatre.org or 866-811-4111)