More Lies About Jerzy

Reviewed by David A. Rosenberg

Presented by and at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15 St., NYC, Jan. 21-Feb. 11.

"Flexible reality is seductive," says one character in "More Lies About Jerzy," Davey Holmes' fascinating but distended play at the Vineyard Theatre. The new work is like that: It means to upend our perceptions—not only of others, but ourselves—yet does so in a way that self-consciously avoids getting at the painful emotional truths that underlie an artist's illusions.

Based loosely on the life of famous émigré author Jerzy Kosinski (here, Lesnewski), the drama follows several trajectories. Kosinski's hugely successful "The Painted Bird" becomes Lesnewski's "Vantage Point," both dealing with a young boy's escape from the Nazis and the cruelties encountered on his journey. One reporter ferrets out the inconsistencies in Jerzy's story and his unacknowledged use of editors, a quest complicated by the reporter's attraction to Jerzy's mistress. When, in the play's strongest scene, the reporter confronts Jerzy with a former neighbor, Rysiek, the novelist goes into a tailspin.

Admittedly, writing fiction based on fact is a trap. How much needs to be accurate? How much contrived? Paradoxically, Kosinski's dilemma is also Holmes'. But glossing over Jerzy's talent and public lionization in favor of his personal destruction deprives the evening of its complexities.

Working with a less than admirable character, Jared Harris is the epitome of European charm as Jerzy. As his adoring factotum, Lizbeth Mackay has never been better. Gretchen Egolf, Daniel London, Betty Miller, Portia Reiners, Martin Shakar, Adam Stein, and Gary Wilmes are all excellent. But it's Boris McGiver as the bearish, wounded Rysiek, who most touches the audience. Darko Tresnjak directs with fluidity and economy. The physical production—Derek McLane's set, Frances Aronson's lighting, and Linda Cho's costumes—is a bit tackier than the situation would warrant. Still, for all its drawbacks, "Jerzy" is intelligent, ambitious, and challenging.