Unscrupulous literary figures have long been present in our world. A few years ago, author James Frey was granted Oprah Winfrey's imprimatur for his so-called memoir, A Million Little Pieces. Soon afterward it was discovered that Frey's work would be more aptly titled A Million Little Falsehoods. Indeed, Pieces was made more of figments of Frey's imagination than anything having to do with the facts of his life. Ms. "O" was so incensed by the disclosure that she called Frey to task on her nationally syndicated television program. But before that Jayson Blair, a reporter for The New York Times, was caught manufacturing his stories from whole-cloth for his prestigious employer. And prior to Blair there was Clifford Irving, who claimed to have letters from the reclusive millionaire, Howard Hughes, proving that the mogul had written an autobiography. The letters were later proven to be forgeries.
One of the more complex and intriguing instances of possible literary fraud centers on Jerzy Kosinski, a Polish immigrant to the United States, who wrote the novel The Painted Bird. Though the book received some critical acclaim, one scholar suggests that "for years Kosinski passed off 'The Panted Bird' as the true story of his own experience during the Holocaust." What's more, The Painted Bird was banned in Kosinski's native Poland, and allegations of plagiarism were aimed at Kosinski's published efforts.
Jump to 2001. Playwright Davey Holmes gets his drama--More Lies About Jerzy--produced Off-Broadway. It's the fictionalized theatricalization of Jerzy Kosinski's peak-to-valley later life. A New York Times review described the play as "a work of admirable ambition." Now, at last, More Lies About Jerzy has come to Southern California--brought here by Circus Theatricals and showing at Los Angeles' Hayworth Theatre, through July 31.
This Jerzy is a leaner, more minimalist production than the New York iteration (kudos to Laura Fine Hawkes simple set-design and to Roger Bellon's original music), and that makes this version seem somehow more admirable and less ambitious. Staged by David Trainer--getting the most out of the least in this intimate theater space--Jerzy tells the tale of Jerzy Lesnewski (the name is changed as a dramatic license) in a fast (90 minutes, without intermission) nonlinear fashion. We learn of the disputes in which Jerzy has become embroiled; we witness his womanizing and tale-spinning; we hear his rationalizations. Still, we ponder the truth beneath Jerzy's pragmatism and utilitarian view-of-reality. Do we write it because we believe it? Or do we believe it because we wrote it? In Jerzy's case, he believes he has written, and that's enough for him. No further introspection is required on his part as far as he's concerned.
As a period piece Jerzy is woven into the post-war, Cold War era; the situation couldn't possibly be placed at another time. As a psychological profile, Jerzy is a singular and unique case, which may never recur.
As Jerzy, Jack Stehlin is volatile, charming, and smart. Stehlin's is a crafty portrayal of a character who is often projecting a character himself. Stehlin allows us to become fascinated and then infatuated with Jerzy's creative amorality.
Supported by a resolute cast, some playing multiple roles (Jordon Lund, Kristin Malko, Neil V. Pond, Cameron Meyer, Adam Stein, and Chet Grissom), this "Jerzy" provides a tour de force opportunity for Jack Stehlin. He does not disappoint. The other actors are called upon for grace, grounding, and professionalism. They each succeed commendably. We patrons are also called upon to examine our own criteria for truth. Perhaps that's what's most disturbing about this nuclear age polemic: It asks us to ask, what is truth? And that's unnerving.
"More Lies About Jerzy" continues at The Hayworth Theatre--2511 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles--through July 31. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. (no performance July 2 and 3). For reservations, dial (323) 960 - 7788. For online ticketing, visit www.CircusTheatricals.com/Tickets.html.