Heads-up, by Marie-Antoinette
— Review of the play The Revisionist, Cherry Lane Theater, 2013 —
I saw a frail angel flying by the Village last night
My first assignment as a theatre columnist was to go to
a neighborhood called Greenwich Village and see a play there, entitled The Revisionist.
I have to confess I was quite terrified to venture through the streets of New York without my dame de compagnie,
blinded as I was by the flares and mirrors of the glass palaces and deafened by the formidable screams of
the horseless calashes. But for a coin of gold, a man with a humble carriage lead by a miserable horse agreed to take me
south from a vast forest the locals unexpectedly spared at the centre of their city, and I felt somewhat appeased when,
as we drove by, people on the streets started cheering me.
The driver stopped his horse at last on a street thankfully more quiet than the boisterous, right-angled avenues
we had followed, in front of a mysteriously closed red door. I was puzzled, as I was expecting a larger theatre.
This one did not exactly look like our Comédie Française. I entered the Cherry Lane Theater, looking for its royal balcony.
I did not find one. I was instead invited to sit between two commoners, neither of them looking at me as welcomingly as
the passersby earlier. After some hesitation, I sat down, wondering if my outfit was still too conspicuous. I had chosen to wear
a simple apple-green and white taffeta dress with almost no ribbons, and no flowers in my headdress, just a lavender-grey velvet pouf.
Was I sitting between two French revolutionaries who had recognized me despite my silk mask?
Dieu merci, the lights dimmed down, and the play started. On stage, there was a somnolent old lady slumped on a sofa. A few feet
before her was the strangest object I had ever seen, a sort of little box from which a loud chatter and flickering lights were coming out.
I assumed the lady was a witch. Another eerie noise resounded, finally waking her up. She went to open the door of her wretched hut
and another actor, a young feverish man, came in. His character, David, a cousin from America visiting the sorceress in Poland, had planned
to spend a few days at her place in order to revise a book he had just written. The dialogue between the self-absorbed youngster and the
attentive enchantress later revealed that the little snot was not the only revisionist at play.
The Revisionist touchingly stages the lonely world of Maria, a woman haunted by the memory of her decimated family. She coped
surrounding herself with the portraits of remote cousins she visited once in America, venerating their still smiles, cherishing their names,
picturing their lives in a fantastic world she does not belong to. Her second encounter with David will shatter this pretense, and bring
to light another one, startling and bleak.
The young actor, a certain Jesse Eisenberg, is also the author of The Revisionist. It is a pity that Eisenberg did not revise his own
play since, despite a tenuous plot and a botched ending, the nimble dialogue succeeds anyway, quite remarkably, in giving substantial life
to the characters and enough space to the actors. His promising eagerness, both as a playwright and as an actor, is estimable. As for the actress,
I was mesmerized by her poignant performance. She poised delicately throughout the evening between aplomb and weightlessness, humbly, boldly bringing
into play her immense talent with a fragile and graceful recklessness.
I checked her name on the leaflet I was given before the show. Vanessa Redgrave.
I shall not forget it.