The Revisionist

A new play by Jesse Eisenberg

Written by:
Karen Weinstein
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Oh Jesse, you should have known better. You are at the top of my list of millennial actors but you stumbled with this one. First of all, when you write something, do not title it such that it is an open invitation for critics to bitingly tell you what they think. Secondly, you have not completely abandoned the idea of a story – that is a good start — but to wait until the last five minutes of the hour and three quarters, no intermission, run time for it to develop? That is asking a lot of an audience.

David (Seamus Mulcahy, Jesse Eisenberg himself in the original New York production) Is a millennial author of Young Adult fiction. His first work sold well despite a negative review in the New York Times. But now he is stuck. His publisher has sent back his second try with the dreaded “revise” instruction and the deadline has passed. His grandfather suggests he go stay with a second cousin in Poland – God only knows why – supposedly to get away from distraction. Maria (Deanna Dunagan) visited the family in the US once when David was very very young and he has no memory of her.

The set-up does not make a lot of sense. Grandpa did not have a clue so why did David listen? We plug on because Eisenberg has accurately created a couple of mildly interesting characters. Critics have been hard on David: he is self-centered, he smokes pot, he opens the window a crack to blow the smoke out even though Maria has asked him not to because of the utility bill. Remember, he is a millennial. They live in hoodies. He is smoking pot, but he is not stoned. The American relatives whose pictures cover the walls (and who Maria has never met, but who fascinate her) are unknown and of no interest to him. Watching someone trying to rewrite something is not exciting. It is a stressful for an author. He needs to block everything else out; it is not the moment for such an author to reach out and meet new people. The character makes sense, but using such a character to people an essentially two-person play does not. They are not a pair matched in heaven.

As someone who discovered unknown relatives from behind the iron curtain, I am prepared to attest to the authenticity of Maria, the Polish cousin. Genuine warm fuzzies do not come easy, David does not have time or interest in building the relationship. Maria has a complete vocabulary of complaints and shoulds as her relationship tools. And so the story drags on until late in drama where he asks about her experience during the Holocaust. At first it is a standard, tragic tale, and then … but I will not ruin the end should you chance to see “The Revisionist.” It is the one redeeming part. Of the two characters, Maria is the more interesting. She has more flesh in the game of their relationship. Their cross cultural, cross generational encounter comes to naught, despite the mighty efforts of the two main actors.

Yes, I may be kinder to David than most critics, and more critical of Maria than they too, but I add my chorus to their cries: rewrite, revise, Jesse, please. Read Jonathon Safran Foer’s novel, “Everything Is Illuminated,” for a fascinating story of a young man’s encounter with his family’s history from the old country. His quest makes much richer fodder for a tale than watching the agonies of a revision of a young adult novel.

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