“The Social Network’s” Jesse Eisenberg has written and is starring in Asuncion, a new Off-Broadway comedy, and it’s exactly what this season’s plays have not been–intelligent, smartly written and brilliantly funny.
Sadly Asuncion unwinds and loses momentum in the second act, which may overshadow the excellence of the play’s opening act.
In Asuncion, Edgar (Eisenberg) and Vinny (Justin Bartha) are anything but racist. Edgar works extra hard to remain as such, a characteristic that works much to his detriment.
When a young Filipina woman named Asuncion (Camille Mana) becomes their new roommate, the twisted pair have an opportunity to prove to one another (and themselves) that they’re open-minded.
Edgar’s character is incredibly interesting. Eisenberg gives him jittery nuances to fuel the perception of his chuckle-worthy neuroses.
Naïve and something of a prude in his strange nature, Edgar is entertaining even when he’s frustrating.
That having been said, the real gem in this production is Bartha, who is undeniably one of the finest actors on the New York stage today.
As he proved with his Broadway debut in Lend Me a Tenor, his presence is transformative.
Whereas it takes a while to forget that Eisenberg is Mark Zuckerberg from the Facebook movie, Bartha immediately establishes his character as a pot-smoking, hippie musician who doesn’t take himself or anyone else too seriously.
Mana, making her Off-Broadway debut in the title role, is as clueless as she is lovable, and provides the play with much of its life and humor.
The shortfall is that Asuncion as a person is tremendously unique, but her character’s story never goes anywhere interesting.
The story builds up only to falter at the end, never amounting to what could have been a poignant, yet entertaining conclusion.
Despite its troubled ending, Asuncion is an enjoyable night of theater.
At one point Edgar says that “sometimes too much literary language detracts from an important statement.”
The irony in these words is how true this is for the script. Asuncion shows without too much telling, and features actors performing without too much sermonizing.
Director Kip Fagan keeps the action and the laughs moving, while leaving none of the dialogue feeling jilted.
Everything on the stage feels used and comfortable, much to the credit of set designer John McDermott.
Edgar’s and Vinny’s small living room is practically a character in itself; it seems to emanate herbal smoke and low lights that leave it homey and intimate.
Fagan and Eisenberg get props for putting together a piece that is innovative and thought-provoking, though their ending proves they still have room for improvement.
Tickets for Asuncion may be purchased by calling Ovation Tix at 212-352-3101, or online at www.Rattlestick.org, or at The Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St. in Manhattan.