Sunday, April 22, 2018

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 68, A Review: "The Revisionist" (Playhouse on Park)

By James V. Ruocco

When "The Revisionist" debuted off-Broadway back in 2013, the very idea of watching Vanessa Redgrave  playing a Holocaust survivor in her mid-seventies, was a luxury in itself. As was the casting of "Revisionist" playwright Jesse Eisenberg as Redgrave's troubled, condescending second cousin from America,

The powerhouse performances of the play's two leading players, matched by Eisenberg's pungent, quirky playwriting skills, was nothing short of electrifying. And, then some.

At Playhouse on Park where "The Revisionist" is making its New England debut, the opportunity to revisit the play in a new setting with an entirely new team of actors (just as dynamic as the off-Broadway cast) proves to be just as exciting as when the production first played the Cherry Lane Theatre five years ago.
Cheers to the artistic staff of this acclaimed Connecticut-based theater for adding this dynamic play to their remarkable Playhouse on Park 2017-2018 season, which has included "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Intimate Apparel" "Avenue Q" and "Steel Magnolias."


"The Revisionist" is magnetic. The words, the vibrations, the moments of surprise, exhilaration and uncertainty, ring loud and clear . And the story itself, once again, demonstrates Eisenberg's imagination and tenacity as a playwright.

In the play, David, an entitled, opinionated writer of sorts, travels to Poland to visit his much-older cousin Maria, a woman who keeps photos of her adored American cousins on the walls of her small, cozy apartment and lives a very easy, simple life, shrouded from the outside world. That, of course, changes once David moves into her spare room. Arguments ensue and long-kept secrets from Maria's past begin to unravel.

Working from Eisenberg's interesting, passionately rendered script, director Sasha Bratt's staging of "The Revisionist" is interesting to watch on many levels. The story, for example, is honest, real, and emotional and staged with just the right amount of compassion, heat, seriousness and relevance.

The fact that you get two, fired-up actors...Cecelia Riddett and Carl Howell...jumping head first into their respective roles for an intermission-less 100 minutes also thrusts Bratt's creative energy into overload. You sit there, often on the edge of your seat, completely engrossed by the action at hand, often wondering what is going to happen next or how Eisenberg is going to end his play.

Directorially, Bratt never once makes a false move. The interaction, rapport, tension and cultural clash of the play's two central characters is absolutely seamless. Blocking is minimal, but plausible. The play's inherent humor, fiction, pathos and sadness is naturally stated. And the closeness between the actor and audience is intimate, relevant and stirring.

Cecelia Riddett, as Maria, is mesmerizing. It's a role she plays and owns, rife with mystery, judgment, happiness, cynicism, hunger, passion and vulnerability. The actress also brings the right sense of humanity to the part, which, when she finally lets her hair down to reveal the horrors of her childhood during the Holocaust, her recollections hit home dramatically and effectively.

Carl Howell's portrayal of the smug, self-absorbed David is complex, imaginative, edgy and shady, which is exactly what the part calls for. He and Riddett make a terrific acting team, particularly in  scenes, which reveal their philosophical and cultural differences or when they verbally clash and burn and all hell breaks loose. Their closeness to the audience adds additional fuel to these weighty moments, marvelously staged by Bratt , who, takes his cue from Eisenberg's powerful script.

Sebastian Buczyk, in the role of Maria's burly, taxi-driver friend Zenon, is first-rate. The actor delivers most of his performance in such believable Polish dialect, you actually believe he was born and raised in Poland. The script also paints his character as a warm-hearted, compassionate, sometimes cynical individual, which the actor intelligently portrays.

"The Revisionist" is a substantial, exciting piece of American theater. It is warmly real, splendidly acted and one of those productions that you'll be talking about long after the ride home. Sasha Bratt, as director, also makes you feel as if you're a part of the play and not just watching it.

"The Revisionist" is being staged at Playhouse on Park (244 Park Rd., West Hartford, CT), now through April 29.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 523-5900

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