by Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Kip Fagan
Featuring Remy Auberjonois, Justin Bartha, Jesse Eisenberg, Camille Mana
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at
The Cherry Lane Theatre, 36 Commerce Street
October 27, 2011 — December 18, 2011
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 19, 2011

  • “You don’t like to give.  You’re selfish, but you call it depression.” (Stuart to Edgar)
  • “I think of it like a pop song…. The best thing for the rest of the world. A pop song nation.” (Asuncion about the United States)
  • “Vinny likes to wake up to hot bagels and I like it when he likes things.” (Edgar)
(L-R) Jesse Eisenberg, Camille Mana, Remy Auberjonois, Justin Bartha. Photo by Sandra Coudert.

Step into the world of post graduate / graduate student public university academic alternate universe as crafted by set designer John McDermott for playwright Jesse Eisenberg‘s new play Asuncion by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at the Cherry Lane.  Director Kip Fagan keeps a taut pace throughout a piece that fades like the thought dream that it is soon after viewing.  Moments of college life and youthful misinterpretations of human events will be familiar to any thoughtful adult, and those calling cards define this play — college, youthful, misinterpretations.  We are successful brought into a world, and not as successfully or convincingly presented a resolving storyline.  Individual performances entertain, but the throughline fades.

Our story in a nutshell.  Real student life in an hyper verbal, physically stagnant, Binghamton student apartment shared by post graduate Edgar (Jesse Eisenberg) and graduate student Vinny (Justin Bartha). Edgar’s brother Stuart (Remy Auberjonois) drops in from New York City to insult and annoy (as only older brothers do), compare notes on how long it has been since the brothers have seen each other (years apparently), not compare notes at all on family life (we know nothing of their upbringing nor their parents or other family), and to ask if Stuart’s new Phillapina wife Asuncion (Camille Mana) can stay for a few days for unarticulated reasons.  The balance of the story is Edgar’s assumptions of those unarticulated reasons — and the fact that he can’t keep straight that Asuncion comes from the Phillipine’s rather than Cambodia tells you all you need to know about his power of observation and deduction.

Edgar himself doesn’t agree to this request but roommate (and lease holder) Vinny does — inspired sit-com style by Asuncion’s cute pert style.  (Vinny and Stuart high five literally and figuratively over Asuncion’s and Edgar’s bodies — they’re the all-knowing frat boys and the others are the playthings around for their entertainment.) In a play that is set in two acts unnecessarily (this could easily be pared to a single act with its current story elements) we travel the journey of needy and adorable and adrift and stalkery Edgar — stalking his once-TA Vinny, who endures him much as an older brother — is there a theme? — allows him to tend and fetch for him, allows him to live in his apartment.  There might be more between the two young men, eventually, in this at this point PG rated plot.  Edgar has big dreams of journalism, yet doesn’t really interview or observe closely the world around him beyond his own imaginings.  And his misguided assumptions about who Asuncion is, what her home life might have been (sex trade? call girl?), how she and Stuart met, how the world works, informs this plot.  The problem is, we stop caring what that answer is, and want to focus more on why Edgar is the way he is, and the plot as currently crafted doesn’t allow for that in the end.

All of the actors are fun to watch.  Each has lovely moments, many involving extended dancing.  Eisenberg has a real knack for run on, hyperactive dialogue, and delivers it better than almost anyone around on stage or screen.  We await his next play writing adventure.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 21, 2011)

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