Theater review: ‘More Lies About Jerzy’ at the Hayworth Theatre
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Long before James Frey ticked off Oprah, Jerzy Kosinski excited controversy with “The Painted Bird,” a novel that Kosinski slyly promoted as an autobiographical account of his own childhood in Poland during its occupation by Nazi Germany. When it was alleged that his “personal” experience was largely fabricated, Kosinski’s career was forever tarnished. Accusations of plagiarism further plagued Kosinski, who committed suicide in 1991. [Updated: A previous version of this review wrongly characterized the country where Jerzy Kosinski grew up as ‘Nazi Poland.’]
Was Kosinski liar or embellisher, literary thief or literary genius? The continuing debate fuels Davey Holmes’ “More Lies About Jerzy,” now at the Hayworth.
Considerably shortened since its 2001 premiere, Holmes’ deft drama is a fictionalized look at a man who falls from grace for fictionalizing his own life – a neat meta-theatrical exercise that examines the sometimes cannibalistic nature of creativity.
Although Holmes has changed the characters’ names, the play roughly follows the arc of Kosinski’s pyrotechnical rise and sputtering fall. Holmes’ thinly-veiled stand-in for Kosinski, Jerzy Lesnewski (Jack Stehlin) is a newly famous author and voracious womanizer, a regular on the talk show circuit as well as in New York’s flourishing sex clubs, circa the early 1970s. When a formerly supportive journalist (Adam Stein) exposes inconsistencies in Jerzy’s work, the vultures circle.
Under the direction of David Trainer, Stehlin is, quite simply, luminescent. Although certainly able, his fellow performers spin in his blazing orbit like lesser satellites. An exception amongst the workmanlike cast, Kristin Malko, who plays Jerzy’s young lover, loses the trajectory of her character early on. However, any such minor failings are eclipsed by Stehlin’s immense performance.
–F. Kathleen Foley
“More Lies About Jerzy,” Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Also May 23, 3 p.m. Ends June 26. $25. (323) 960-7788. www.CircusTheatricals.com/Tickets.html. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.