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New York City - Theatre

Michael Perlman's
From White Plains

Until March 9, 2013
The Studio Theatre at Pershing Square Signature Center

Directed by Michael Perlman

Cast: Craig Wesley Divino, Aaron Rossini, Jimmy King, and Karl Gregory.

Design team: Tristan Jeffers (set design), John Eckert (lighting design), Jessica Wegener Shay (costume design) and Chad Raines (sound design).

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Bullying is a very important, very current theme that should be explored in all mediums. The more dialogue created the better.

So many of us have been angered and saddened by the rash of teen suicides--that continues--because of bullying.

I was so infuriated and devastated by the Rutgers travesty that I wrote my own play, titled, Consent, about a sixteen-year-old boy, living in a small town, struggling with his sexuality and being bullied because of that struggle. I write this not to promote my own work, but to show just how much I have invested in this specific subject matter.

The good news is that writer/director Michael Perlman takes the subject matter very seriously and has written a thoughtful and thought-provoking new drama that explores forgiveness in a way that is rarely seen in the theatre. So often his characters simply admit they have no idea what to say--and how refreshing and real is that!

From White Plains was developed as a company collaboration based on true experiences. This four-character piece is pretty potent stuff and asks pertinent questions about responsibility, empathy and retribution--refusing to necessarily answer them.

The play opens with two straight BFFs John (Craig Wesley Divino) and Ethan (Aaron Rossini) watching the Oscars (I know, but straight men watch them, too!). They are flummoxed when Ethan's full name is mentioned in a writer's acceptance speech as the cause of someone's suicide.

We then meet the Oscar-winning writer Dennis (Karl Gregory) and his significant other, Gregory (Jimmy King). Dennis has just won for his film, White Plains, an autobiographical story (from 15-years ago) about a gay teen who takes his own life after being bullied and made to feel inferior by a classmate named Ethan. Dennis is on a mission to destroy Ethan, who responds by posting a video of apology which begins a video-posting war between the two. Gregory feels Dennis is being too militant and should be more compassionate.

Ethan is, at first, incredibly (and understandably) defensive, but begins to show signs of regret as John points out his homophobia and begins to distance himself from Ethan. There is a slight homoerotic undercurrent between the two that make them all the more fascinating.

The Dennis/Gregory relationship is a bit problematic. Gregory feels more like a device than a fully-rounded character and I never understood why he and Dennis were together to begin with. I get where Perlman was going with the Gregory character but I felt alienated by him so I never really cared about his point of view. I did not feel that about the other three. Consequently, I take issue with how the play ends. But I will leave it at that so as not to spoil anything.

As director, Perlman gives his actors a lot of room to do what they do best. But sometimes that results in long, long pauses that take the audience out of a powerful moment. A little tightening and beat-removal could go a long way towards making the play wholly-riveting. Along the same lines, every once in a while the play takes things a bit TOO seriously. Example: when Ethan uses the word "faggot," there is a deliberate silence afterwards. But then that silence goes on a few beats too long. We get it.

Craig Wesley Divino gives the strongest most nuanced performance of the four. We feel John's confusion and understand his allegiances.

Aaron Rossini does the impossible, which is make us feel sympathy for a bully. Ethan is struggling with who he was, who he is and what he may become.

Dennis is bit arrogant and cocksure (as written) but Karl Gregory scratches beyond the superficial and boldly embodies a man who has made it his mission to seek justice. Gregory is particularly moving in his delivery of an insightful and devastating speech in the play's penultimate scene.

In that explanation of what life was and is like for Dennis, the lasting and damaging effects of bullying are brought to the forefront--the play rightly asks it's audience to meditate on their own history and actions. The answers are not always comfortable or pretty.

From White Plains is playing at The Studio Theatre at Pershing Square Signature Center (480 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan) until March 9, 2013.

Ticket Central

The Studio Theatre at Pershing Square Signature Center| 480 W 42nd St | Midtown West
New York

Jesse Eisenberg's
The Revisionist
Sunday 3:00pm
Monday N/A
Tuesday - Friday @ 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Feb 21, 2013 - Closes Apr 21, 2013
Cherry Lane Theater

Directed by Kip Fagan

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

"I am like open book," septuagenarian Maria (Vanessa Redgrave) says to her second cousin, twentysomething writer, David (Jesse Eisenberg), taunting him to ask her about her past. This woman, masterfully played by one of our true acting treasures, is anything but an open book. She is as complex and enigmatic as they come and Ms. Redgrave's luminous portrayal is one the great joys of the theatre season and elevates Jesse Eisenberg's fascinating, exasperating new play, The Revisionist, to levels of transcendence.

Maria is a holocaust survivor living in Poland. As the play opens she hilariously stumbles around her apartment and opens the door to reveal her cousin David who has traveled from New York to Szczecin, Poland to work on revisions for his science fiction novel.

There is an immediate clash--not only cultural--but of two very strong, conflicting personalities. Both disappoint the other. Maria was hoping for a thoughtful relative who would want to spend time with her and get to know her. David was hoping for someone who would stay out of his way.

She becomes upset when he won't eat the chicken she's prepared for him. (He's a vegetarian, which she finds, "silly."). He is irritated by the fact that she keeps answering her phone. (Her phone is constantly ringing with telemarketers wanting money for the blind and she always answers and kindly says no in Polish.) He hates that she's framed the negative review the New York Times gave his "young adult" book. She's upset that he won't sign it for her.

Before too long the two have established a bond. One forged out of loneliness and eventual empathy and understanding.

There is a third character, Zenon (Daniel Oreskes), a taxi driver who likes to drink. He seems to be Maria's only friend—a friend who enjoys washing Maria's feet and then shaving her legs. Maria allows him his odd proclivity since he does it for sentimental reasons. In turn, he takes her where she needs to go. It's a bizarre relationship (not as bizarre as Maria's and David's), made stranger by the fact that most of their dialogue is spoken in Polish, but they seem to truly care for one another.

Redgrave, ravishing at 76, commands the stage in a way only a true artist can. This is her home (in an impressively detailed set by John McDermott), one she has spent years creating for herself, right down to the placement of the many photos that grace her apartment.

This divine acting force allows us into the mind, body and soul of a tortured old woman with charm and grace. It's a riveting, enchanting performance. Rarely do we get to see such layers from an actor. A simple caress moved me beyond words. A look of disappointment had me welling up. There aren't enough superlatives to describe what Ms. Redgrave accomplishes in this piece.

Kudos to Jesse Eisenberg for creating such a vibrant part. I did not see his previous work, Asuncion, but with The Revisionist, he certainly proves he's a dramatist that should be taken seriously.

As author, he sometimes strains to be clever and important. And the character he creates for himself to play spends too much of the early portion of the play being overly petulant and alienating--to the point where even the sweetest; most doting of relatives would kindly toss him out that window he keeps opening to take hits off a joint.

David is a self-indulgent asshole of the first order--so much so that in the second half of the play, when he finally shows signs of vulnerability, it's a stretch to believe the transformation. And the only reason we do is because Maria does. Redgrave's Maria believes in him and that is all we need.

Alas, there is more to David’s seeming one-dimensionalism. Eisenberg, via his character, appears to be negatively commenting on today's arrogant twentysomethings and their inability to give a shit about the generations that have come before them.

The play is beautifully directed by Kip Fagan, who is smart enough to allow Redgrave to simply work her magic. And there are so many amazing moments. In particular, and reminiscent of Sophie's Choice, is Maria's revelatory explanation of what happened when she was four, followed by an even more startling confession a few hours later. It is in these later scenes that The Revisionist becomes more than just a good kitchen sink drama with a titan at the helm.

The play's ending is abrupt and clunky. I appreciated Eisenberg not wanting to bog down in sentiment but a few more minutes could have been spent on fleshing Maria's final motivations out a bit.

But there is so much to recommend. Besides being a broad comment on the old and new as well as cultural differences, the play questions the definition of family. And finds intriguing answers.

Many died in the holocaust. Many survived, but their souls died. Still others found a way to reinvent themselves and live some semblance of a life. Damaged but determined, Maria is a survivor. And as embodied by Ms. Redgrave, she is a wholly defiant, believable one.

Tickets: $86

Cherry Lane Theater | 38 Commerce Street | West Village
(866) 811-4111




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