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More Lies About Jerzy

Also see Sharon's review of boom

Kristin Malko and Jack Stehlin
I read Jerzy Kosinski's "The Painted Bird" in high school. It told the story of a nameless boy travelling through Eastern Europe during World War II. As the boy moves from one place to another, he travels an almost surrealistic landscape of cruelty and violence. The book is intense, moving and memorable.

And it isn't entirely true.

Long before Oprah Winfrey attacked James Frey for fictionalizing his purported memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," Kosinski passed off "The Painted Bird" as being based on his own experiences during the war—a claim that was largely disproven. But there was something else going on here. It wasn't so much a mischaracterization of the book, but a mischaracterization of Kosinski himself—passing himself off as a person who endured an indescribably harrowing childhood and ultimately survived largely unscarred. And this—the idea of fictionalizing one's identity—is what is explored in Davey Holmes's play More Lies About Jerzy.

Jerzy is here portrayed by Jack Stehlin, and neither Holmes's play nor Stehlin's performance shies away from a blunt portrayal of the man, faults and all. This Jerzy is quick to anger, capable of emotional brutality in his demands for absolute soul-baring honesty from those around him, yet easily dismissive of any allegations that he is untruthful. Stehlin also taps into a certain charisma Jerzy possesses, although that charisma may stem from nothing more than self-assurance—which leads one to ask if Jerzy is charismatic simply because he creates himself that way.

There are some delightful passages in the play, where Holmes is clearly having fun with the idea of creating one's self. At one point, Jerzy offers to sign a copy of his book for a young woman. He writes an inscription thanking her for things that have never happened—but the mere act of writing the inscription becomes an invitation for the events to occur. In this play, Jerzy very nearly writes his own life while he's having it.

Ironically, it's hard to know exactly how much of More Lies About Jerzy is true. The play's protagonist is Jerzy Lesnewski; the not-so-autobiographical Holocaust novel is "Vantage Point." There is no doubt that the play is based on Kosinski and "The Painted Bird"; Holmes admits as much. However, in an article in L.A. Stage, Holmes explains that changing Jerzy's name in the play, "provided a huge breakthrough creatively because it freed me to make up his life." So, Holmes's play lives in that very same twilight space between biography and fiction that is occupied by "The Painted Bird" itself. And, without knowing which parts of More Lies About Jerzy are themselves fictional, it's rather difficult to get a handle on how much of the play is a study of a fascinating man, and how much was just created by Holmes to make him more fascinating. It's a shame really—if Holmes's play had been pure biography, it could have dramatized an interesting figure that history has had a difficult time explaining, juxtaposing real events to posit explanations for Kosinski's behavior. Had the play been pure fiction, it could have escaped the limitations of the broad outlines of Kosinski's life and simply explored a wholly fictional character who attempted to create his own experiences, past and present. Instead, the play doesn't solidly commit to either goal, and ends up less compelling than either extreme could have been.

More Lies About Jerzy runs at Circus Theatricals at the Hayworth in Los Angeles through July 31, 2010. For tickets and information, visit

Circus Theatricals presents More Lies About Jerzy by Davey Holmes. Directed by David Trainer. Produced by Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin. Set Designer Laura Fine Hawkes; Lighting Designer Derrick McDaniel; Costume Designer Allison Leach; Original Music/Sound Roger Bellon; Sound Designer Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin; Stage Manager Amanda Korkunis; Production Associate Scott Sheldon; Casting Director Jami Rudofsky; Press Representative Julio Martinez.

Jerzy Lesnewski - Jack Stehlin
Georgia Fischer - Kristin Malko
Talk Show Host, Brett Pearson, Mr. Sorvillo, Jerzy's Father - Chet Grissom
Isabel Parris, Osucha - Cameron Meyer
Harry Frott, Mr. Kerry, Witold Twarog - Neil Vipond
Arthur Bausley - Adam Stein
Rysiek Zrupina - Jordan Lund

Photo: Enci

- Sharon Perlmutter

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