There's busy, and then there's Jesse Eisenberg busy. In an era where tent pole summer blockbusters provide meal tickets for any movie star cast to wear a cape and cowl, the pinnacle of a Hollywood career is now found in a superhero costume.
Of course, some actors sustain more varied careers and leap over genres in a single bound.
In The Social Network, Eisenberg received an Academy-Award nomination for his depiction of Mark Zuckerberg's social hang-ups that led to the founding of Facebook. He survived Zombieland and got the girl in Adventureland. He's played a wide variety of dysfunctional, damaged schemers. Soon he'll go from conniving to diabolical in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where he'll play Lex Luthor -- a super anti-hero of the first order.
One of the finest film actors of his generation, Eisenberg has largely stayed clear of big budget movies. Yet, he has proven to be both durable and bankable, with a range of talents that places him in a category all his own. There are the occasional humor pieces he writes for the New Yorker, and the three Off-Broadway plays he has both written and starred in. His most recent one, The Spoils, produced by The New Group, is now playing at The Pershing Square Signature Center through June 28.
Eisenberg plays Ben -- the pot-smoking, acid-tongued roommate from hell. Needy, callous, manipulative and destructive of both self and anyone within his emotionally exhausting orbit, his most accommodating victim in this poignant tragic comedy is his Nepalese roommate, Kalyan (Kunal Nayyar, from TV's The Big Bang Theory). Ben has either squandered or insulted every opportunity that has come his way. Kicked out of NYU's film school, he does little but disparage a career he has never begun while dashing Kalyan's hopes of fulfilling his own ambitions as an immigrant in America.
Ben feels cheated by life and denied a happiness that he wants desperately but has no idea how one goes about acquiring. Kalyan props up and makes excuses for his roommate, masking an unspoken bewilderment over America's privileged, ungrateful screw-ups. Kalyan is angelic but naive; Ben is rich, entitled, self-absorbed, and angry at the world and all of its inhabitants.
This is an Oscar and Felix co-habitating, co-dependency on steroids.
There is a fine cast of former friends and girlfriends that add to the play's healthy mix of New York strivers gleefully keeping pace on the city's warp speed treadmill. Of course, this is nothing compared to Ben's rapid fire, caustic self-hatred directed at others. He serves up a toxic mix of deep insecurity poured into a bottomless black hole.
Ben is as far away from a likeable character as there can possibly be, but Eisenberg uncovers layers of hurt underneath all the anger, and delivers a curiously endearing performance that elicits sympathy for an otherwise cringe-worthy character. Of course, finding ways to humanize twitchy, nakedly insecure men who lack either the resources or charm to knock those giant chips off their shoulders is one of Eisenberg's great specialties.
He's going to make a great Lex Luthor, but for now, go see a super performance in The Spoils.