BWW Review: THE REVISIONIST Reaffirms History and Family
Stages Repertory Theatre presents the final performance of THE REVISIONIST at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center today. And the show is well worth the stress of making last-minute plans to see it. The play by actor-writer Jesse Eisenberg is a quiet semi-autobiographical drama that gives harsh treatment to narrow interpretations of family as well as those who see the suffering of another human being as an opportunity for a good story.
David, native New Yorker and uninspired writer, takes a holiday to Poland to the home of Maria, his 75-year-old cousin, to break through his writer's block and finally revise his novel. Maria has been engaging with her distant relatives almost exclusively through phone calls and photographs and is eager to develop a real-life relationship with David. David, however, is eager to exploit Maria's pain as a Holocaust survivor and run up her heating bill by opening a window in the guest room (formerly Maria's room) to smoke pot.
Eisenberg creates a wonderful character in Maria. The septuagenarian is a complicated woman full of contradictions, but endlessly sympathetic and engaging. David, on the other hand, to steal a phrase from THE SOCIAL NETWORK, is a "pretentious douchebag." He is also inconsiderate, insecure, self-absorbed, and whiny. It is an unforgiving, one-dimensional characterization of the millennial and ultimately the playwright himself. (In interviews, Eisenberg is incredibly self-effacing and unabashedly neurotic.)
Leslie Swackhamer is comfortable with the silence of the play, allowing the audience to be fly-on-the-wall observers. Kim Powers (scenic designer) and Jodi Bobrovsky (properties designer) perfectly render the lived-in space of a 75-year-old woman. Costume Designer Nara Lesser handles the character's clothing with a light touch. Stage Manager Stephanie Britton also deserves mention for producing a seamless show.
Steve Irish is pleasant to watch as the boisterous and macho Zenon. And Cristine McMurdo-Wallis (Maria) delivers an accomplished performance which, combined with the ERJCC's intimate stage, creates the ultimate slice-of-life piece. McMurdo-Wallis makes watching a woman in a kitchen fake cooking prop food compelling. She is remarkable. In cinema, the director has the benefit of the close-up to show quiet reflection. But McMurdo-Wallis does not need cinematic technique to convey the distinguishing features of her character. (Of course, Lighting Designer Clint Allen probably had a little something to do with directing focus and creating an atmosphere that enhanced McMurdo-Wallis's portrayal.)
Nik Crawford (David) doesn't do so bad himself. When his insufferable character leans out of the bedroom window to take a hit of weed, it is as if there is snow outside. However, his reading of the character is too predictable. You are able to anticipate his choices, which drains some color out of his performance; but in Crawford's defense, Eisenberg underwrote the part. And while a resourceful actor can fit a fleshy character into a constricting role, even the strongest elastic material has a breaking point. Eventually, the rubber in the gum band will snap, hit its handler smack in the face, and prove destructive to the production. At the end of the day, the script is the script.
It is hard to believe we live in a world where David could exist as more than a metaphor or an extreme comedy character untethered to reality like Kimmy in UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT. When asked within a discussion of the Holocaust, two-thirds of millennials didn't know what Auschwitz is. The staging, which coincides with Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, is a necessary reaffirmation that we should never forget; we should never take our family for granted; and we should never be a pretentious douchebag.
THE REVISIONIST by Jessie Eisenberg. April 10, 2018 through April 22, 2018. At the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood. Presented by Stages Repertory Theatre and the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston. For information, please call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. Tickets start at $25.