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So, certainly, did any number of English boys, including Crisp himself and subsequently Bette Bourne, who plays him. The contrast is intriguing: Bourne, a gifted and skillful actor, immerses himself thoroughly in the character—precisely what Crisp, being the character already, never needed to do. No actor at all—I reviewed his Lady Bracknell—he tended to speak in an almost uninflected stream of low-toned words, which Bourne, by training and instinct, can't help but theatricalize, however slightly, under Mike Bradwell's direction. Not that one would prefer monotone mimicry of Crisp; the paradox is simply that more comes out equaling a tad less. At the same time, Bourne's own presence strengthens the evening, which will gratify and inform many hundreds of people who never saw Crisp. And a good part of Resident Alien's low-temperature feeling, after all, comes from the chill Crisp's own unemphatic clarity could give to any proceedings: His was less a life-affirming than an existence-noting spirit. But this, too, was a mark of his originality: He was never one iota less or more than himself. And it's no dispraise of Bourne to say that, by definition, no one else could be exactly that.


In a sense, anyone could be Kosinski, for no one—I expect not even he—knew who he really was. Tall, lean, and elegantly dressed, he always reminded me of Thomas Mann's confidence man Felix Krull, even before I realized the extent to which his writing was the product of other people's efforts. Davey Holmes's More Lies About Jerzy tells a story not unlike Kosinski's, centered on one of his more outrageous plagiarisms—he transcribed into a novel the diary of a woman with whom he was having an affair, later returning to her not the diary itself, but a Xerox with key passages blacked out. In these scenes, Holmes, who has promise and imagination, catches something of Kosinski's quietly manipulative tactics. Unhappily, the play he builds on this incident tends to replace the fascinating reality with all too familiar movieland tropes. The writer who exposes this fictive Jerzy isn't a smart, objective old hand (like the actual exposer, this paper's Geoff Stokes), but a novice Times staffer with a secret crush on the girl whose diary "Jerzy Lesnewski" has annexed; the cool, impassive Kosinski—perhaps merged with the more recently challenged Holocaust memoirist Benjamin Wilkomirski—becomes a nerve-racked creature, haunted by ghosts from the childhood he's rewritten.

Acting Crisply: Bette Bourne in Resident Alien.
photo: Joan Marcus
Acting Crisply: Bette Bourne in Resident Alien.

Details

Resident Alien
By Tim Fountain
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East 4th Street 212-460-5475

More Lies About Jerzy
By Davey Holmes
Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street 212-353-0303

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Much of this is frankly hokey stuff, abetted by the heavy hand of Darko Tresnjak's production, which leans to plodding blackouts at scene endings, unwisely casts weak actors in the weakly written roles of Jerzy's opponents, and encourages Jared Harris, in the title role, to overplay a thickly neurotic defensiveness that would make anybody peg him as a phony; the real Jerzy was a considerably slicker act. Tresnjak's virtues, though, are real, like Holmes's potential. He gets a first-class performance from Boris McGiver as the Polish homeboy with the goods on Jerzy, and two really superb creations from Lizbeth Mackay, as Jerzy's ongoing lover, and Gretchen Egolf as the diary-keeper. Clearly, both Holmes and Tresnjak are too interested in emotional truth to fathom the psyche of a con artist like Kosinski. His facts will have to wait for another telling.

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