When we think of revisionism in connection with the Holocaust, we usually think of those who deny that the Shoah ever happened. But in Jesse Eisenberg’s new play, “The Revisionist,” in which he also stars, a young American Jew forges a deeper connection to the history of his family and people.
The play, which stars Vanessa Redgrave in the role of an elderly Holocaust survivor in Poland, will be produced this season by the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in the West Village.
Eisenberg, who grew up in a Jewish family in Queens, is known for his narcissistic, socially awkward portrayals of Jewish men in such films as “The Social Network,” in which he was nominated for an Oscar for his depiction of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and “Holy Rollers,” in which he plays a young chasidic Jew who becomes a drug dealer. Redgrave, widely considered one of the greatest actresses of all time, last played a Holocaust survivor in 1980, when she made her American TV debut in Arthur Miller’s “Playing for Time,” as Fania Fénelon, a real life Polish Jewish cabaret singer imprisoned in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen — a casting choice opposed by Fénelon and others because of Redgrave’s vocal support of the PLO.
“The Revisionist,” directed by Kip Fagan, is Eisenberg’s second play; his first, “Asuncion,” produced by Rattlestick in 2011, in which Eisenberg also starred, is about two male roommates whose friendship gets turned upside down when a Filipino woman stays in their apartment. In “The Revisionist,” Eisenberg plays David, a science fiction writer who travels to Poland to find a quiet place to finish editing his manuscript. But in staying with his 75-year-old cousin, Maria, who is obsessed with her far-away American family, he hears about the trauma that she suffered both in the Holocaust and in her post-war experiences under the Stalinist regime.
In an interview, the Rattlestick’s artistic director, David Van Asselt, noted that he has been working with Eisenberg for years, long before he became a film star. Based on an actual experience that Eisenberg had when he visited a relative in Poland, the play, according to Van Asselt, is “about the two characters coming to terms with each other, learning to appreciate each other’s experience. There are lovely moments when they finally make contact.”
The self-absorption of Eisenberg’s character, he explained, is part of the playwright’s comment on Americans of his generation — that as the Holocaust recedes into history, young people are, like David, “curious about the Holocaust but not aware of its profundity.”
“The Revisionist” starts previews Feb 15 and opens Feb. 21 at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St. in the West Village, where it runs until March 31. For tickets, $85, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or visit www.TheRevisionistPlay.com.