Sunday, December 4, 2011

Off-Broadway: Jesse Eisenberg Triumphs Because I'm His Cousin

Jesse Eisenberg stars in the off-broadway production of Asuncion
By Mitch  Broder

Jesse Eisenberg, the Oscar-nominated star of “The Social Network,” has triumphed in his New York playwriting debut because I am his cousin.

He is captivating audiences nightly with his delightful new play, “Asuncion,” because my grandmother was the sister of his great-grandfather.

Teamed with an excellent cast, he is irresistible in the lead role of Edgar because my mother is the first cousin of his grandmother.

The show is a hit and had barely opened before its run was extended because I am the second cousin of his mother.

Needless to say, applause is in order.

Also some for Jesse.

On second thought, give it to me, since he gets it every night, not that he doesn’t deserve it, but fair is fair. “Asuncion” is entertaining and Jesse is entertaining in it, but would he be where he is without me?

Actually, I wasn’t sure. So I called him to double-check.

Oscar nominated Jesse Eisenberg wrote and stars in Asuncion off-Broadway in New York City
Jesse and Camille Mana.
Personally, I trace his success to the day when our families gathered at the home of my cousin Judy, who is also Jesse’s aunt. I had just written about my cousin Hallie Eisenberg, who is also Jesse’s sister, and who was appearing in “The Women” on Broadway because my great-grandparents were her great-great-grandparents.

On that day, Jesse told me that he was pursuing a career in acting, though he had yet to receive a single Oscar nomination. Instead of suggesting that he give up, I assured him that I was all for it. He has since been in a couple of dozen movies. There was really no need to call him.

But I called anyway, and he called back, which I appreciated, because he could just as well have called, say, Justin Timberlake, who also blogs. We talked mostly about family. He told me that Judy wanted to hear from me. I assumed that it was because she wanted to thank me for her success.

I told him how much I had enjoyed “Asuncion,” for which I had been grateful, since his parents were with me in the audience that night. I told him that he was a pleasure to watch onstage, for which he was grateful and possibly even more likely to thank me for his success.

I asked him what it was like to star in a play that he had written. He said: “I have the same kind of stresses that I have from being in plays that I haven’t written. But there’s nothing more exhilarating. There’s nothing like the thrill of doing live theater.” Except maybe for being the one who has made the thrill possible.

Still, I proceeded subtly. I asked him whether he could think of any family members who had played a major role in his career. “I take a lot of comfort in having a close relationship with my parents,” he said.

Fine. I could live with that. For some people, parents outrank cousins.

He continued: “One of the byproducts of being in movies is that you feel a little less ownership over yourself. You see people on the street, and they act as if they know you. It helps me feel grounded, having a close relationship with my parents.”

OK; I couldn’t compete with his parents. And I really didn’t want to, after confiding to him that I felt the same way about my parents. So I switched strategies. I asked him if any previously unknown relatives had tried to profit from his success. Maybe I’d float to the top.

“No,” he said, “no one’s come out of the woodwork to ask me to invest in their lumberyard. Luckily, we come from a normal, healthy family, so no. Now that you mention it, I can only imagine what’s possible. But no, so far there’s been nothing uncomfortable.”

Jesse Eisenberg is starring in Asuncion in New York City
Jesse and Remy Auberjonois.
I had to get tough. I reminded him of the day at Judy’s. He didn’t remember our conversation. All right, then: In “Asuncion,” his character is a naïve journalist and blogger who makes shallow assumptions. Could he deny that I was the inspiration for that?

He could. He claimed that he based Edgar on his shallowness rather than mine. But he made a concession: The inspiration for his career may have come from his grandmother. “She’s a natural performer, and she was always outgoing,” he said. “If it came from anywhere, it came from her — and we share her.”

We do share her, or rather I share her with him, since she was my cousin before she was his grandmother. But that wasn’t quite what I was after, and time was running out. Jesse had to go to a voice-over session because my great-aunts were his great-great aunts, so I more or less asked for credit, and he finally gave it his best shot.

“Your father is in the entertainment industry,” he said thoughtfully. “I can’t say he’s done much for me, but I suppose he would have if I’d asked.

“As for you, I can’t think of anything — unless it’s one of those butterfly-flaps-its-wings-in-China things. But if it was something like that, I appreciate it. Thank you.”

You’re welcome, Jesse.

I’m always here for you.

Jesse Eisenberg's off-broadway debut at the Cherry Lane Theatre

“Asuncion,” from Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, runs through December 18th. It's at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, in Manhattan. If you like it, you can thank me.


  1. We have Eisenbergs is our family. Maybe I too am your cousin. I am famous through association. Hooray!
    P.S. I see that you and Jesse also share hair.

  2. This is a great piece...and I'm not just saying that because I follow the cousin responsible for so much greatness! I see two great minds share a very un-shallow shallowness. Would love to see this show!

  3. I love this piece Mitch! Laughed all the way through, mostly because I'm your cousin, which is what makes it particularly funny--having you as my cousin, I mean. Thank you for engaging me as a newly devoted reader of your blog; I need your humor to bring more light to my winter days! Hey, speaking of...I bet you'd enjoy my son's website based on Jesse's wordplay game. Check out I think you'll get lots of votes for your posts.

    Also, Jesse's grandmother was not a natural performer (unless this I'm missing the joke here). Her big line was always: "...but I never interfere!"