Thin, implausible ‘Revisionist’ fully fleshed out in ‘enjoyable, thought-provoking’ Dobama Theatre production
By Bob Abelman
“Write what you know” is usually the advice fledgling authors follow when they first put pen to paper.
Such is the case with actor-turned-playwright Jesse Eisenberg. He has so mastered the art of depicting patronizing, self-centered, socially awkward characters in films like “Social Network” and “Now You See Me” that he has created similar characters to portray in his own plays, “Asuncion,” “The Revisionist” and, most recently, “The Spoils.”
In “The Revisionist,” which premiered off-Broadway in 2013 and is on stage at the Dobama Theatre, a young American writer named David arrives at the run-down Polish city of Szczecin and the well-worn flat of his second cousin Maria. Self-absorbed, high-strung and thin-skinned, David has come hoping that the isolation and radical change of scene will allow him to concentrate and complete his new novel. He makes no effort to be gracious to Maria or show any appreciation for her hospitality.
The septuagenarian Maria thinks David has come to visit her and learn about the family they lost in the Holocaust and the many others depicted in the cherished photographs that cover every surface in her modest apartment, designed with wonderful attention to detail by Aaron Benson and Marcus Dana.
Both David and Maria are in desperate need of human contact and personal connection, but their generational, cultural and culinary differences create barriers that only a bottle of vodka and some serious truth telling can penetrate.
This is a lovely story but, as with the early works of many fledgling authors, it is thinly told and full of implausible, forced and structurally graceless moments. What should be a small, delicate watercolor portrait is rendered with expressionistic subjectivity, broad strokes and unrefined technique.
Fortunately, it fell into the hands of director Leighann Delorenzo. Her delicate touch has tapped all that is heartfelt and beguiling in the script. And her eye for casting has allowed it to take form on stage.
Dorothy Silver captures in tone, temperament and physicality a woman who has turned self-preservation into a going concern. Her character’s rock-solid defiance and effortless ability to laugh at herself and others — all masterfully put on display by one of Cleveland’s finest actors — were Maria’s survival strategies during the war and work for her still. It is a testament to Silver, not the script, that Maria appears so genuinely robust and fully fleshed out.
And it is a testament to Andrew Gombas that David’s defenses break down and he becomes increasingly vulnerable and likable as the play progresses, something Eisenberg never accomplished in his world-premiere Cherry Lane Theatre production. David is a lost soul, not a lost cause. Without Gombas’s effective communication of this, neither Maria’s affection nor our investment in his well-being would have been justified or so richly rewarded.
Also superb is John Busser as Zenon, a brash and burly taxi driver who has befriended Maria and serves as brief comic relief. His Polish seems authentic but, more importantly, so do his warmth and gruff charm.
“I am an open book,” Maria tells David when he finally gets around to asking her what happened during the war. She is not. And neither is this script. But this Dobama production does a fine job of making it an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. CV
WHAT: “The Revisionist”
WHERE: Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights
WHEN: Through April 3
TICKETS & INFO: $10-$28. Call 216-932-3396 or visit dobama.org
Bob Abelman covers theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on March 7, 2016.
Lead image: Andrew Gombas and Dorothy Silver. PHOTO | Steve Wagner Photography