You would think that any play about the Holocaust would have a lot going for it, since the subject matter is so compelling. However, that isn’t entirely true when it comes to The Revisionist by Jesse Eisenberg, now at Dobama Theatre. The script, written by the young Hollywood star and Broadway actor/playwright, frequently veers away from dealing with serious issues.
But there is one overwhelming reason to see this interesting if sometimes flawed script, and that is the presence of Dorothy Silver. Ms. Silver has been lauded over the decades for her theatrical accomplishments in Cleveland, and rightly so. But her performance as Maria, in this tale of an old woman trying to make a connection with one shred of her distant family, is truly a gem that must be seen and treasured. From the moment David, Maria’s young American cousin, arrives in her flat in Poland, Silver is in full command of the story and the stage.
And that’s a good thing, because in lesser hands this shaky effort might topple over. Callow David is trying to rework his second book of science fiction, and he’s come to Poland to find a quiet refuge at the home of his much older cousin, where he can concentrate on his task. But Maria thinks he has come to visit with her and share family stories. She is desperate for this kind of connection since, as we learn during the span of the 105-minute play, her immediate family was killed by the Nazis during in Germany during World War II.
It’s a potentially intriguing mixture of cultures and generations, and the playwright has a deft way with humorous jibes. But he often steers the conversations into shallower waters. Relying on easy comedy set-ups—Maria and David sharing some cut-up cubes of tofu, David sneaking puffs of his bedroom stash of ganja—the play continually dodges around more significant discussions. And that’s too bad, since the subjects at hand, including the importance of family and the need to make human contact, are powerful indeed.
In this production, the talented director Leighann DeLorenzo clearly wants to make the autobiographical David (a role the playwright played in New York) an unsympathetic creep who is also somehow endearing. And Andrew Gombas as David works diligently to find the right balance for his character, somewhere between sweetness and snark. John Busser, in the small role of Maria’s Polish-speaking friend Zenon, also brings some lightness to the proceedings.
But after Maria reveals her guilty secret, there are some wrenching and non-credible switcheroos at the conclusion of the play. This includes David’s reaction to Maria’s big secret, a response that feels completely tone-deaf, even for a self-centered writer twit such as David. Any author with even the slightest bit of imagination—or just a human being with a scrap of soul—would be shocked and riveted by Maria’s revelation. Instead, he just reverts back to his petty concerns.
In addition, the very last scene feels clumsily constructed by the playwright to generate surprise and confusion in the audience. A good play should always end with questions, but those should not be questions that seem unsupported by the characters.
Despite those glitches, the play does the great favor of shaping the delicious role of Maria. And fortunately for the audience, DeLorenzo enables Silver to do her thing, crafting every word and gesture with the specificity, intelligence and wit that have long been the trademark of her performances.
You must see The Revisionist for that reason, since any other reasons pale in comparison.
Through April 3 at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-932-3396.