Reviews by Elyse Trevers

The Revisionist / Old Hats


You may not agree with Vanessa Redgrave’s politics, but we all have to agree that she is a superb actress. Once again her skill is on display as she portrays Maria, the elderly Polish cousin of David, a young American writer (Jesse Eisenberg.) The Revisionist, a new play by Eisenberg, deals with the relationship between Maria and the young man who’s fled to Poland to revise his novel. He stays with a cousin he doesn’t know, because, he admits, she was his last resort.

The more she tries to connect with her America relative, the more he resists. She has pictures of other American relatives on her wall and proudly lists their accomplishments. Although David lives closer, he doesn’t even know them. Finally with the help of some strong Polish vodka, the two share secrets.

Watching Redgrave is like taking a master class in acting. Every movement, glance and swallow of vodka is deliberate and nuanced and satisfying for the audience.

Eisenberg has created a less than likable character for himself. David is self-centered, self-absorbed and totally selfish. Many of the mannerisms that made his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg so effective in Social Network appear again. If he’s not careful, Eisenberg may find himself type cast.

However, working every night with the wonderful Redgrave, he should learn a thing or two about acting. The show at the Cherry Lane Theater has already been extended and continues to play to sold-out houses.

Further uptown, two other pros work to delight and charm audiences. Returning to work together after many years, clowns Bill Irwin and David Shiner perform a series of skits, some together and some individually. Their show, Old Hats, is done almost entirely without a word from the two men. There is one quiet digression but the adorable pianist and singer, Nellie McKay, gets them back on track. “Boys, be good clowns.” McKay performs little musical ditties between the men’s scenes.

A real political debate is never as entertaining as the one the two mimes have when they vie for the crying baby in the audience. As two older gentlemen, they wait for the train and share their medicines. They are incredibly lithe and limber at one point, shrinking down and stretching up. When they perform a Magic Act, with Irwin as the ‘attractive’ assistant, they bring an audience member on stage who gets sawed in half. Irwin races against himself in an iPad and Shiner gets four participants to help him make a silent film. The two often wear oversized shoes and baggy coats and use few special effects. They are the their own special effects.

The two old pros provide two hysterical hours of mirth and merriment. Their show at the Pershing Square Signature Center has been extended and many in the audience brought their children to share in the fun.