Asuncion

Jesse Eisenberg is best known as an actor, and especially for his acclaimed performance in last year’s The Social Network. With Asuncion, produced by the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and playing by special arrangement at the Cherry Lane Theatre, Eisenberg pulls double duty, serving as both actor and playwright. And he’s pretty good at both.

Eisenberg’s Edgar lives with his friend Vinny (Justin Bartha), a Black Studies PhD candidate. Edgar is an unemployed journalist who is too liberal for his own good. (It’s a little difficult to decipher their relationship at first, but later this confusion comes to a head.) Edgar’s sycophantic behavior toward Vinny seems to suit both young men just fine, but their world is turned upside down when Edgar’s older brother, Stuart (Remy Auberjonois), drops in out of the blue and drops off his new Philippine bride, Asuncion (Camille Mana). Asuncion stays with Edgar and Vinny (without Stuart) for several days and forces both, though especially Edgar, to reflect on their beliefs.

Being too liberal for his own good and trying to be everyone’s white knight, Edgar assumes that Asuncion (which is Spanish for assumption) is a mail-order, sex-worker bride who his brother has purchased, and he continues to observe and record Asuncion’s every move throughout her stay so that he can write a story about her plight. The problem is that Edgar is so impressed with his liberalism that it gets in the way of his ability to actually get to know and learn something from his new sister-in-law.

I found this to be an interesting play, though I didn’t have a particularly strong reaction to it. Eisenberg (aided by director Kip Fagan) gets the comedic moments right, showing off a flair for witty writing. He also displays – as a writer – a love of language. In one exchange, Vinny says Asuncion is funny. Edgar asks him to describe her humor, asking if it’s witty or more observational. In an exchange with his brother, Edgar exclaims he has convictions. “No,” Stuart says, “you have opinions. That’s not the same thing.” This is a well-crafted play, written with careful attention to word choice. (Perhaps Eisenberg learned a thing or two about writing and word choice while working with master scribe Aaron Sorkin?)

Sharp writing and strong performances from all lead to a rather ambivalent ending. I like that it ended in a naturalistic, slice-of-life way, rather than with some wordy and cumbersome falling action. It’s actually a rather brave, untidy way to end a play, and it happens to make sense for the characters. (It might not have made sense to some audience members, though. After the blackout, there was a murmur of hesitation as several audiences members tried to figure out whether or not that was, in fact, the ending.)

I don’t think Asuncion is a must see and I don’t think it has broad appeal. But for lovers of language and for liberals who roll their eyes at Liberals, this off-Broadway offering makes for an interesting and mostly entertaining evening of theatre.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit rattlestick.org.

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