A beautiful production of Jesse Eisenberg’s play about a young American pot-head named David (Carl Howell) visiting a distant cousin named Maria (Cecilia Riddett) in Poland has opened at Playhouse on Park. David has ostensibly chosen Maria’s small apartment in the town of Szczezin because he wanted to find a quiet place where he could work on the revision of a novel he submitted for publication (but the publisher, said, ‘revise this’). He also may be trying to find himself. What we, the audience, know about him is that he’s a jumpy and quixotic young American who seems to be insensitive to the welcome and habits of the old Polish woman who is accommodating his visit. When she invites him to a supper she has prepared for him, he says he’d rather just sleep now, and when the phone rings regularly, he suggests that she turn it off. Also, as he unpacks, we see that, inside a white sock, he has paraphernalia and a supply of what is probably marijuana. He reaches and struggles with opening the window of the bedroom so that he can light up a pipe and exhale out the window.
Meanwhile, Maria is delighting herself in having a visit from a real American cousin. She would like to have more warmth from David, but goes on with her life, adjusting some menus to his (vegetarian) demands, and improving her English, which is already pretty good, because she faithfully watches CNN. It is a real joy to follow her character develop. Ms Riddett is a skilled and delicious actress, with a great ability to communicate by the shrug of a shoulder, or the twinkle of eyes, what she is feeling. David’s development – not so much – but many past reviewers have commented that the script of this play doesn’t offer him the same opportunities that it gives to the actress playing Maria.
There is a third character. Zenon, a local taxi-driver (Sebastian Buczyc), who regularly helps Maria with shopping and some other personal care, comes to visit and to have a few slugs of vodka. He speaks only Polish, so Maria must translate between Zenon and David, and David mocks him by teaching him several inappropriate English words.
One evening, Maria and David share some vodka, and then also share the background story of Maria’s being saved from the Death Camps when her mother sent her away, and how she established her identity after surviving. It is a sensitive, powerful, sad and revealing tale, but David, as usual, does not really grasp it. He does, however, get drunk.
By the next morning, communication between the two cousins has changed. Maria, perhaps coming to her senses, perhaps hiding with shame for what she has shared with David, has decided that he must leave. She expresses some anger, and he, to his credit, expresses some caring. Zenon takes David to the airport, and Maria softly adjusts to the comfort she knows will come again from watching CNN.
The set (Emily Nichols), lighting (Marcus Abbott), sound (Joel Abbott), and costumes (Kate Bunce), are all beautifully executed, and the direction, by Sasha Brätt, allowed nicely for setting up the striking cultural differences and the development of the two cousins’ relationship as noted above. It is interesting to observe that the awkward emptiness of David’s character was written by the playwright for himself. Eisenberg played David in the original productions.
Tickets and Information at www.PlayhouseonPark.org or 860-523-6900.
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre