I’m not sure what to make of Asuncion, the new play by, and co-starring Jesse Eisenberg, a production of the Rattlestick company currently “off site” at the Cherry Lane Theatre. It takes place in a the disheveled bachelor pad of Vinny (Justin Bartha) a history teacher who used to be TA to slacker Edgar (Eisenberg), who is in permanent residence as a non-paying roommate. The two are ostensibly straight, so when Edgar’s older Wall Street broker brother Edgar (Remy Auberjonois) unexpectedly appears, asking to drop off his new immigrant wife Asuncion (Camille Mana) for a few days, there’s the potential for a romantic triangle—it’s almost mandated. (Indeed, upon reading a thumbnail description of the play, a friend of mine remarked, “It sounds like a low-rent Star-Spangled Girl with a Hispanic accent.” But it isn’t that, quite.)
Mr. Eisenberg demonstrates clearly that he can write funny and paint vivid characters, but the slender story itself bears little scrutiny (Why in the world would solvent Edgar drop his new wife off in this pit? An explanation is at length offered, but it makes as much sense as none) and from the get-go there’s something a little unhealthy going on; Vinnie and Edgar seem less like man-buds than co-dependent companions feeding off each other’s pathologies, and it’s as if the alluded-to Neil Simon had taken off the socks and shoes of Star Spangled Girls’ sitcom style characters and made them wade up to their ankles in the water of corrosive solipsism. They never out-and-out go to “a bad place”—in fact, they instinctively back off before things go too far—but the stank of potential moral anarchy is everywhere. And because the atmosphere clashes with the facile comic tone, the play’s universe doesn’t seem quite “real,” despite the very literal kitchen sink integrity of the performances and the direction by Kip Fagan.
Then again, a new, young playwright can do a lot worse than prove that he can at least create memorably unique characters and write very funny lines for them to say. That suggests a certain amount of storytelling prowess to be developed, especially because in Asuncion he’s able to sustain it for the evening. And thus I’m very interested to see the next evening he may have to offer…
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