One of the hottest tickets in New York right now is “The Revisionist,” starring Vanessa Redgrave and Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”), who also wrote the play. Part of the rush to the box office is the unique opportunity to see Redgrave, one of the greatest actors of her generation, in the intimate 177-seat Cherry Lane in Greenwich Village. The production, which received strong reviews, has been extended to April 27 but there are now reports that it may transfer to Broadway, depending on the schedules of the respective actors. It won’t be for lack of enthusiasm. Redgrave’s program biography, which barely mentions her film career, notes that “Vanessa is immensely excited by the script ‘The Revisionist,’ which she accepted as soon as she read it.”
Eisenberg has written an obnoxious part for himself, that of a whiny, self-centered young American writer named David who has invaded the home of his distant cousin, Maria, a Jewish Holocaust survivor. The manner in which this old woman harbors a secret past and deals with the complicated feelings aroused by her selfish young relative has given Redgrave an opportunity to put her full complement of gifts on display. When Maria’s patience finally wears thin at David’s antic behavior, she explodes in anger.
While it is Maria who is airing a grievance, the scene gives a sample of Redgrave’s own reservoirs of rage. Those have been tapped from time to time by the social injustices in the world and what she considers the recklessness of the media. Now they are directed at an unauthorized biography, “The House of Redgrave,” by Tim Adler, which has recently been released in the United States. The headlines in the British press have centered on the sensational sex scandals of the family — a dynasty of actors that began with the birth of George Ellsworth “Roy” Redgrave in 1873 (Vanessa’s grandfather), who promptly abandoned the family for a career in Australia. Adler also makes much of the bisexuality of both Michael Redgrave and film director Tony Richardson, Vanessa’s father and first husband, respectively. He also regurgitates the messy divorces and addictions among the brilliant and celebrated artists. (Tony Richardson won an Oscar for directing the Best Picture winner of 1963, “Tom Jones.”)
Vanessa Redgrave contacted lawyers but has apparently dropped the threat of litigation. However, her daughter Joely Richardson penned a blistering rebuttal to the book in the Sunday Telegraph. “Silly as pie on the one hand, highly defamatory on the other,” she wrote, adding that a friend had described it as “prurient contemptible hackery.” She maintained that the biography added to the personal woes of a woman who has been tragically saddled with more than her fair share. Within a 12-month period beginning in March 2009, Vanessa had to endure the deaths to cancer of her brother Corin and sister Lynn; and the passing of her daughter Natasha due to injuries sustained in a skiing accident. In the latter case, the family’s decision to stop life support gave rise to a story that coursed through the theatrical community at the time. As Natasha’s life slowly ebbed away, it was said that Vanessa held her hand and sang the song “Edelweiss.” Joely debunks the story. “I asked my mother if this was true, as I had no memory of it, and it seemed such a bizarre choice on every level, least of which was that it played no part in our childhood: ‘Darling, I don’t even know the words to it!’ she replied.”
Image: Vanessa Redgrave and Jesse Eisenberg star in “The Revisionist.”/© Sandra Coudert