Friday, March 11, 2016

THE REVISIONIST exposes the need for connectedness @ Dobama

 Social anthropologists offer that humans have four basic needs—survival, pleasure, security and territoriality.  They also propose that we need to belong to some group or groups.  Most commonly that of a family.  Jesse Eisenberg in his play THE REVISIONIST hits on the needs and the desire for connectedness in his thought-provoking script.

Eisenberg is known for his Oscar-nominated role in “The Social Network,” as Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg.  Other noted parts included appearances in “Holy Rollers,” the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner, and the forthcoming “Batman versus Superman:  Dawn of Justice as Superman’s archenemy Lex Luther.  Few know of him as an author, playwright and comedian.

Eisenberg has written three play, ASUNCION, THE REVISIONIST, and THE SPOILS.  His first book, “Bream Gives Me Hiccups,” a collection of short humor pieces, was published in 2015 to laudatory reviews. 

THE REVISIONIST, which ran at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in 2013, with a cast that included Eisenberg and Vanessa Redgrave, centers on Maria, a Holocaust survivor who opens her modest Polish apartment to her second cousin, David, a book author with writer’s block.  David, who had written a very successful young adult’s novel, has supposedly come to Poland for solitude in order to revise his science-fiction novel which is six-months past submission deadline.

Instead of quiet, David is confronted by a stubborn woman who wants to get to know her distant “American family.”  It’s a cultural collision. 

Maria’s life consists of watching CNN, talking to telemarketers, going on weekly shopping trips with her taxi-driver friend Zenon, and obsessing over her many, many family pictures.  People who she has never met and only one of whom has visited her.  That visit was for a quick couple of hours.  She did go to America once to visit David’s grandfather and his immediate family.  It was then that she met the very young David.

Maria fusses over meals, plans for side-visits for David, tries to dictate what David should wear, do and believe.  High-wired, David tries to escape reality by smoking pot in his room by opening the window, much to Maria’s consternation.  He can’t stick to the rewriting task for very long. 

David’s ambivalent relationship with his family frustrates Maria.  She can’t understand why he doesn’t call his mother, has had no contact with his sister or grandfather for months.  She yearns for family interaction, looking forward to her weekly short phone calls from David’s grandfather.

David and Maria’s disquieting togetherness comes to a climax when she wants him to sign a negative review of his anti-fascist allegorical novel in the New York Times that his grandfather sent. 

The play climaxes when Maria, drunk on vodka, reveals to David, who is also pickled, a secret that unravels the whole family connection. 

It is from here on that the characters end their relationship and Eisenberg fumbles with an ending.

THE REVISIONIST had a staged reading last year by Faye Sholitan’s Interplay Jewish Theatre, directed by Jackie Lowey, which starred Dorothy Silver.

Silver, the first lady of Cleveland theater, also stars in the Dobama production.  Silver digs deep into Maria’s soul and mines actions and reactions that only a great actress could uncover,  Silver does not portray Maria.  She is Maria.  Eyes flashing, emotions on edge, smirk on face, voice cracking and trembling, hands animated, Silver compels.  She commands and gets attention.  This is Silver at her finest!  Bows, curtain calls and trumpets of praise!

Andrew Gobmas also is excellent.  Trying to balance the acting scales when one is on stage with greatness is hard, but Gombas succeeds.  He has a vulnerability, a way of making his actions and reactions real, the ability to texture a character, that makes David real.

John Busser, who played Zenon, a taxi driver, who spoke only in Polish, got his highest compliment from a Polish couple that was brought to the production by a member of Dobama’s original acting company.  The duo said Busser’s pronunciation was language correct!

The appropriate pacing for the one and a half hour intermissionless production, and the on-target character development can be credited to Leighann Delorenzo’s direction.

Aaron Benson’s modest Polish apartment set did much to set the right mood.

Nathan Motta, Dobama’s artistic director, in his program notes asks: “Without personal connection without someone to share our human experience with, left completely alone with our thoughts can we truly survive?  He goes on to write, “Maria needs her family.  David takes his family for granted while hunting for something else.”  I challenge, “What can we learn from this clash of cultural ideologies?”
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Though there are flaws in the writing, Dobama’s THE REVISIONIST is a must see to experience the great Dorothy Silver and the very talented Andrew Gombas.  These performances deserve a standing ovation!

THE REVISIONIST runs through April 3, 2016 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.