Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Review of "The Revisionist"

The essential question of The Revisionist, the fitfully compelling drama at Playhouse on Park, is how does one define family and the desire for connection—with the world today and between generations?  Playwright Jesse Eisenberg’s work also explores the power of personal stories and experiences.  He mostly succeeds in a story that can be thought-provoking, enthralling, and heartrending.
Cecelia Riddett and Carl Howell in "The Revisionist."
The plot centers on David, a young writer searching for solace and a creative spark in order to finish his science fiction epic.  Seeking a total change of scenery, he travels to Szczecin in Poland to stay with Maria, an older, second cousin he hardly knows.   At first, the self-absorbed and arrogant novelist resists the overtures of the inquisitive and gregarious relative, wanting to be left alone to work.  They banter and squabble over the mundane and routine.  His curiosity, though, about her life as a Jew during the Holocaust she sporadically hints at, starts to pique his interest and begins to draw them closer until a long-kept secret drives a decisive wedge in their developing relationship.

Cecelia Riddett is impressive as the elderly Maria.  She skillfully and persuasively conveys the swirling emotions and excitement of someone coming face-to-face with a long unseen relative and her own personal demons.  The actress, initially, may come across as a fool set in her provincial ways, but she is more intelligent and sharp-witted then first impressions may suggest.  Carl Howell imbues David with an air of superiority and smugness that plays well against the more down-to-earth spirit of Maria.  There is, however, a uniform temperament and disposition to his role which, with more subtlety and variation, would have better displayed his more complex character. Sebastian Buczyk, a Polish native, is perfectly cast as Zenon, a burly taxi driver who, among other things, helps Maria with her weekly errands.
Cecelia Riddett and Carl Howell in "The Revisionist."
The production starts off sluggishly under Sasha Bratt’s staging.  Yet, the 100-minute, intermission-less play very quickly builds to an engrossing intensity only occasionally veering into tedious territory.  The director establishes an ambiguous, slightly unsettling tone that permeates the show including its surprise, somewhat inconclusive, nonetheless satisfying, ending.  Mr. Bratt is at his best with the scenes where the two main protagonists are holding honest conversations or bickering over unimportant minutiae. 

Emily Nichols’ Scenic Design of Maria’s apartment is functional and utilitarian, a domicile appropriate for someone on a very fixed income.  Joel Abbott’s Sound Design is unobtrusively effective with, for example, the jarring, ringing from the old-time rotary phone becoming almost like another character in the show.

The Revisionist, a worthy production at Playhouse on Park through April 29th.

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