The name “Jesse Eisenberg” may not be as familiar as, say, Jerry Seinfeld-yet. But if you saw him portraying Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network” you may remember him being nominated for many prestigious Best Actor awards for his work in that movie. Or, more recently, you may have seen him as Lex Luthor in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
Or maybe you’ve attended one of the plays he’s written and starred in off- Broadway. Or read one of his funny pieces in the New Yorker. Or his recently published book “Bream Gives Me Hiccups.”
To give credit where credit is due, this 32- year-old actor, playwright, author and humorist can only be classified as a wunderkind.
Why am I telling you all this? To get you motivated to go see his play “The Revisionist” which has just opened in Los Angeles. It’s marvelously written and beautifully present- ed at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
Seamus Mulcahy plays David, the role that Eisenberg introduced in the off- Broadway production, and Mulcahy looks enough like him to be his doppelgänger. He is paired with Deanna Dunagan, a much-celebrated actor who is absolutely pluperfect in the role of Maria, a cranky, opinionated Holocaust survivor, and Russian-born Ilia Volok, a clunky laborer who speaks only Polish on stage.
The play is set in the present in the little town of Szczecin, Poland, where David has come to revise his second book according to his publisher’s suggestions/recommendations/orders. He has come to Poland to the apartment of a distant cousin whom he has never met because he assumes that the remoteness and unfamiliarity of the place will offer him the quietude he needs to over- come a current attack of writer’s block.
But Maria has other ideas. Isolated and distressingly lonely, she is delighted to have a visitor and throws herself wholeheartedly into the role of full-time hostess. Of course, being old and childless, she also assumes the roles of critic, advisor, and perpetual cynic.
She has read his first book, which she insists on dismissing as a “children’s book” because it features animals who talk. He is offended because he had written the book as a serious political treatise and the animals’ conversations were intended to be seen as philosophical, political, and profound. (A la “Animal Farm”.)
Maria speaks engagingly in Polish- English and her accent is impeccable throughout. Ilia Volok, as a character named Zenon, speaks only Polish, but he speaks it so vehemently that translation is unnecessary. (Volok, who starred here a few years ago in the one-man show “Diary of a Madman,” is a spectacular actor who can be understood even when speaking in Gibberish.)
Maria’s apartment is filled with framed portraits of her family in America, and she diverts David with their life stories and how they are all related to each other. Her loneliness is palpable, and so is his, and through the arguments, the cultural and generational misunderstandings, and the occasional silliness (Eisenberg is a humorist, after all) there is hope that they might be able to establish a human connection.
The apartment’s setting benefits from Tom Buderwitz’s cozy design: cluttered, but with a working kitchen equipped with running water in the sink, and Leigh Allen’s warm lighting design which keeps the action moving from room to room.
The actors, too, benefit from the astute direction of Robin Larsen, and Seamus Mulcahy turns in a performance that is absolutely breathtaking. I doubt that Jesse Eisenberg himself did it any better.
“The Revisionist” will continue Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. through April 17 at the Lovelace Studio Theater in the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica, in Beverly Hills. Call (310) 746-4000 or visit TheWallis.org for tickets.