Theatre Review: Refraction Theatre burst onto the Brisbane stage, with the Australian premiere of Jesse Eisenberg’s The Revisionist

David, an American science fiction author with a serious case of writer’s block, needs to get out of the city. A distant relative, in a quiet Polish town, seems like a good bet. But where David sees an opportunity for isolation, cousin Maria sees a chance to reconnect with a family that rarely calls and never visits.

That’s the basic premise of The Revisionist, the second play from Jesse Eisenberg (yes, that Jesse Eisenberg), and the debut production of Brisbane company Refraction Theatre. Directed by Caroline Dunphy, and starring Kate Wilson and Refraction’s own Michael Mandalios, it’s a strong offering from the newcomers, equal parts witty and heartfelt.

At its core, The Revisionist explores the definition of family, from Maria’s near veneration of her American relatives, to David’s distinctly more Western view, keeping all but the closest at arm’s length. There is, of course, a twist in the tale, resulting in a finale that’s abrupt and affecting.

As a character, David is what we’ve come to expect of Eisenberg from his film roles – aloof, awkward, and a bit of a jerk – while Maria is every inch that pushy but well-meaning older relative. When David moves back, she inches forward; after all, he’s here to finish his novel, but she’s here to find her family. She’s given up her bedroom, put dinner in the oven, and even read David’s books. Hell, she’s even framed his (poor) reviews. It’s hard not to warm to the character, especially as David comes across so thoroughly unlikable.

Indeed, it feels as if Eisenberg is committed to making David the most entitled jerk that he can – as well he might, given the caricature he himself is subject to. But that means that when the time comes for David to leave Maria, I found myself mostly relieved she was rid of him. Maria might be the one with the terrible secret, but its David who leaves without redemption.

Performance wise, Wilson and Mandalios do a sterling job. Their (often humourous) back and forths feel genuine, fueled by a zeal for the dry wit of Eisenberg’s script. And they’re backed by a wonderful showing from Syrian actor Amer Thabet in his Australian debut as Zenon, Maria’s taxi driver friend.

With any gripes resting solely with the script itself, The Revisionist really does mark a brilliant debut for Refraction Theatre. The performances are excellent, and they’re supported by a clearly talented crew. Catch this Australian premiere at Metro Arts now, and welcome this new indie team to the Brisbane theatre scene!

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Revisionist by Jesse Eisenberg is presented by Refraction Theatre. Performances run until November 14th at Metro Arts, Brisbane. Visit the Refraction Theatre website for tickets and more info!

Reviewer attended opening night, on Friday November 8th.

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