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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
JERUSALEM
at the Music Box

ROOSTER IN THE COUNTRY
By BILL STEVENSON

  Mark Rylance/ Ph: Simon Annand

Jez Butterworth’s new play is overflowing with ideas about English traditions, English literature and how rural England is changing (not for the better). It’s an ambitious three-hour play that will challenge Broadway theatergoers accustomed to lighter fare. Fortunately, Butterworth’s very smart play is also very funny. And Ian Rickson’s terrific production contains a towering performance by English actor extraordinaire Mark Rylance.
 
He plays Johnny “Rooster” Byron, who lives in a disheveled silver trailer in the woods outside Flintock, Wiltshire. A former daredevil motorcyclist, Rooster now walks with a limp, though his staggering can sometimes be attributed to his constant drinking. Johnny is also a small-time drug dealer, and the fact that he sells to local teenagers is one reason the local authorities want to evict him. They also want to remove the unsightly trailer to make way for an expansion of a nearby housing estate.
 
Johnny is an unbridled hedonist with a love for life as well as a recklessness that often gets him into trouble. He’s a jolly, drunken rabble-rouser (with shades of Falstaff) who has a mystical connection to the land. Not long before the play’s powerful and disturbing conclusion, Johnny lists his ancestors who lived in the Wiltshire countryside before him. Even when he is inebriated or high, Johnny is not to be taken lightly; he isn’t likely to cave in to either the city council or the local bully.
 
Rylance, a Tony winner for Boeing-Boeing, has already given one magnificent performance this season, in last fall’s La Bete. In that comic tour de force he delivered a half-hour monologue that astonished. In Jerusalem he is again riotously funny, and once again the actor throws his whole body into the performance. But Rylance digs deeper here, giving Johnny a tragic stature as well as an unexpected dignity. By the cathartic ending, one wonders how Rylance can do such physically and emotionally demanding work eight times a week.
 
While Johnny dominates the play, Butterworth (Mojo) surrounds him with a colorful supporting cast. Mackenzie Crook is excellent as Ginger, a would-be DJ who sadly misses one of Johnny’s drug-fueled raves. Max Baker has funny moments as Wesley, a pub owner. Alan David is equally good as the Professor, and John Gallagher Jr. fits right in as Lee, who is about to leave for Australia. Geraldine Hughes, as Johnny’s ex-girlfriend Dawn, has a moving scene with him. Young Mark Page does a fine job as her son Marky (who is played by Aiden Eyrick on alternating nights). Rickson, who also directed Jerusalem at the Royal Court and on the West End, brings out the best in child actors as well as in great ones like Rylance.
 
It’s a first-rate production all around, including a lush and cluttered set by British designer Ultz. Butterworth’s literary references may fly over the heads of many in the audience, and some of Johnny’s stories ramble on a bit too long, but Jerusalem is a powerfully elegiac work, and Rylance’s full-throttle performance should not be missed. 
 


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