Scrawny and self-centered, David (Jesse Eisenberg, who’s also the playwright) arrives at the cramped flat of his elderly second cousin Maria (Vanessa Redgrave) in Szczecin, Poland, with a chip on his shoulder and a yen for a quick hit of weed. He tokes away with door closed and window open in Eisenberg’s beautifully crafted “The Revisionist” at the Cherry Lane. David traveled to Poland to end his writer’s block, believing, or at least hoping, that a less comfortable landscape would set his creative juices free.
But we soon see he is almost as indifferent to the hard work of writing as he is to his cousin’s feelings. In contrast, Maria seems uncomplicated. With no family in Poland, she’s thrilled with her houseguest — but not afraid to put him in his place when appropriate.
One night David breaks out the vodka and convinces Maria, who never drinks, to join him. We learn that David is not the only one with secrets. But some things are best left unsaid — at least that’s what Maria thinks, come the morning after.
“The Revisionist” draws its considerable emotional clout from its characters’ ability to rewrite their own histories. Skillfully played by both leads, they deceive themselves as much as they deceive each other. We take David’s self-involvement and Maria’s blend of strength and vulnerability at face value, but there’s more there than meets the eye. Maria’s implacable survival instincts surprise us with their intensity — even as they leave her lonely and proud.