Cockamamie #2 of the year - the first one being The Madrid! The way you can tell is that without Vanessa Redgrave there would be no reason to watch this play. So let us give thanks that she is planted firmly on this stage.
So firmly is she planted that she disappears. As Maria, a Polish woman living alone with the aid of a few friends, one of whom we meet in the person of Zenon (Daniel Oreskes), she is over the moon when her cousin’s grandson comes to visit. David (Jessie Eisenberg) has chosen Poland and Maria’s apartment as his own private writer’s colony. He’s been thrown out of all the others, and this is a last resort.
This flimsy plot simply does not hold up, but through sheer strength of will and skill, Redgrave keeps us watching. Not only does the premise not hold up, the dialogue doesn’t either. David is petulant at best. He will not eat her food. He will not talk with Maria when asked. He does not leave the apartment to take a tour of the town. In short he is the worst of houseguests.
The problem here is that Eisenberg gives us no reason for this behavior. While he has created a many layered character in Maria, he has given his own short shrift. Not only that, in his one hyperactive performance he has re-created the character he wrote for himself in Asuncion. This hyperactive and over analytical character was charming in that play, but if this is the only character that Eisenberg has in his quiver he would do well to let someone else have a go at it.
With nothing to play except disagreeability, there is little for David to do. So the play wanders on with hints at the secret Maria has been carrying, but no direct – or even indirect – path to the conclusion. The play teeters and totters and then comes to a completely inexplicable end. This is more a jumble of scenes than a narrative, and viewers are jostled about like luggage in the back of a car. It is not a satisfying experience.
All of this is of little matter of course when you have the privilege of watching Redgrave spin her magic. This is an actor who allows herself a degree of vulnerability that pulls you in like a magnet. To watch her moving around her apartment makes you truly believe she lives there. You can almost smell the musty gathering of old dust and memories. To watch her experience her first mouthful of tofu, washed down by several sips of scorching vodka is a master class in acting. And as the play progresses you forget who you are watching so completely that at the play’s conclusion you are rousted out of a reverie because you really don’t want to leave Maria.
No matter the content of this thin play, Redgrave is literally worth the price of admission.
"Ms. Redgrave giving a performance that reminds us why she’s considered the greatest actress of her generation."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Nonstarter of a drama. ... But the chance to see Redgrave, who’s terrific, up close and personal makes it almost worth your time."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Isn’t a very good play, and Redgrave maybe wasn’t the right pick for her part."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Proof that good things often come in small packages."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"Far from a prize winner, although it has some warm and amusing moments. ... Has the nub of a good idea. Even, however, with Redgrave’s sublime contribution, the fleshing out leaves much to be desired."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Watching a magnificent stage animal like Vanessa Redgrave burrow deep into a complex new role in an intimate Off Broadway space seating fewer than 200 is a rare luxury for theater lovers."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"It’s hard to tear your eyes from Redgrave."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...