BWW Review: THE REVISIONIST at Playhouse On Park
How one defines family can vary greatly from culture to culture and from generation to generation. What that word means to one person may mean something completely different to another. These are lessons learned by Maria and David, cousins from two very different worlds that form the heart of Jesse Eisenberg's THE REVISIONIST, now playing at West Hartford's Playhouse on Park.
David (Carl Howell) is a young, self-involved American writer who is stuck in a "sophomore slump" with his second novel, who has traveled to Szczecin, Poland to get away from his many distractions and revise his overdue manuscript. He stays with his 75 year-old second cousin, Maria (Cecelia Riddett), a holocaust survivor and lonely widow. Maria is thrilled to have someone from her family visit her (something that doesn't happen often) and goes out of her way to play hostess, planning outings and insisting on cooking David meals. David, however, insists he is there to work on his book and (often rudely) rebuffs Maria's offers of hospitality. Over the course of his visit, the two grow closer and in doing so reveal some shocking truths that impact them both in significant ways.
At its heart, THE REVISIONIST is a commentary on how today's generation approaches family connections in a very different way than those that came before them. It is also a study in how, as human beings, we have the capability to define how we see life and, when possible, revise those things that may not fit into our preferred narrative. Like the novel that David is revising, Maria and David carry on lives that perpetuate their story, removing pieces that don't fit and adding others that help paint a particular picture. David sees himself as a misunderstood and underappreciated writer who believes that the thing that is standing in the way of him completing his work is his environment, so he comes to Poland to change it, and hopefully achieve a positive result. Maria keeps photos of her family, many of whom she has never met, all over the house to give her the comfort that her life doesn't offer on its own. She also incessantly answers the phone, even though she knows it will always be a telemarketing scammer, just to feel needed and to have human connection. She even maintains a very awkward relationship with her cab driver, Zenon (Sebastian Buczyk) to fill those human needs for interaction. Ultimately, as David puts it after a very vivid dream "It was real, because it felt real", a sentiment that punctuates the way both of these characters are able to re-define their lives.
Jesse Eisenberg's script for THE REVISIONIST flows well. It is appropriately humorous at times, but never too much, and it explores with sensitivity the awkward, yet fascinating relationship between these two very different people. Carl Howell's David is self-centered and easily agitated, often turning to marijuana to achieve calm and focus. Mr. Howell is quite believable in his portrayal of David, often with a sense of confusion and frustration at both his inability to complete his work and the actions of his cousin, Maria. As Maria, Cecelia Riddett gives a strong performance, conveying Maria's pure joy at having her family under the same roof and her deep sadness when sharing the story of her family that died in the Holocaust. Both Mr. Howell and Ms. Riddett are at their best during a pivotal scene late in the play where vodka and revealed secrets flip the story on its ear. Though only present in a few scenes, Sebastian Buczyk's Zenon is an enigma of a man who only speaks Polish and because of that remains a bit of a mystery.
THE REVISIONIST is another play that works extremely well in the Playhouse space. With a small cast and a singular setting, the audience is immersed in the story and able to connect and relate to those on the stage from the moment the lights come up. Sasha Bratt's direction is strong and he gradually, yet deftly paints the picture of these two lives and the ups and downs of their relationship. Emily Nichols' apartment setting is realistic and works well on the Playhouse on Park stage, and Joel Abbott's sound design provides a good underscore for the dramatic transitions.
THE REVISIONIST is another strong choice for Playhouse on Park to offer to its audiences. Its exploration of the universal themes of family, human connection and the definition of what is "real" is delivered in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. This is definitely one of those plays that will have audiences discussing and speculating long after the show ends.
THE REVISIONIST runs at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through April 29th. For more information, call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119
Top Photo: Cecelia Riddett as Maria and Carl Howell as David (Photo courtesy Curt Henderson)
Mid Photo: Sebastian Buczyk as Zenon and Carl Howell as David (Photo courtesy Curt Henderson)
Bottom Photo: Cecelia Riddett as Maria and Carl Howell as David (Photo courtesy Curt Henderson)