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You are here: Home Theatre Reviews & Features 2010-11 Reviews Broadway Review: JERUSALEM
Saturday, 30 April 2011 12:40

Broadway Review: JERUSALEM

Written by
Mark Rylance Mark Rylance Photo: Simon Annand

Just before the house lights went to half on Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, I was speaking with a colleague about London transfers and their oft-times hit or miss track record with New York audiences (think Enron). Jerusalem got generally good notices; but I gotta say, I just don't get it. The first act of this three-act, three-hour play is very funny.  The second and third act unravel into a prolonged mess.  The play takes place on St. George's Day, a day for local fairs and celebrating in England.  The title Jerusalem is from a hymn sung in England based on a poem by William Blake.  In it is celebrated the idea of heaven coming to earth.

The marvelous Mark Rylance is Johnny "Rooster" Byron. He's living in a rundown Airstream on property that might or might not actually belong to him.  He's lived on the property for 20+ years.  Juxtapose the idea of heaven on earth against Rooster’s world-view, everything on earth is shit and those that don’t fight are doomed to get edged out of the process, and you have Jerusalem.

Over time, the property surrounding Rooster’s has developed into fancy communities, his property is next but Rooster has dug in his heals.  Two constables tape a sixth eviction notice on his trailer door while he stays inside barking like a dog through a megaphone (maybe he and Edie Falco from House of Blue Leaves could get together).

Rooster rebels against the government and his well-off neighbors.  He's a drug dealer who throws wild parties with teenagers and drugs.  It’s hard to tell if Mr. Rylance's Rooster is just drunk and stoned throughout the whole show or if the character is just crazy. I suspect it's both.  Rylance’s ability to perfect and maintain his character’s physical disability is impressive.  Rooster is a former dare-devil who was injured in an accident.  One of his legs looks as though it was hit by a car; the leg bent in, somewhat limp and uncooperative.  Not surprisingly, thanks to Rylance’s three hours a night of self-mutilation (six-hours on matinee days), Rylance thanks his chiropractor in his bio.

More than the physical interpretation that Rylance gives to Rooster, it is his possession and understanding of his character that makes this an astounding performance. His stamina is to be admired.  His talent and reputation at handling bigger-than-life characters has now been sealed with multiple roles on Broadway in just the past few years. I have had the good-fortune to see all three of them: Robert in Boeing-Boeing; Valere in La Bête earlier this season; and now Rooster in Jeruslaem.  This man is truly one of the greats of our generation.

The group of drop-outs and miscreants that gather at Rooster’s trailer to while away the hours use him for his drugs and as a form of entertainment.  Mackenzie Crook is marvelous as Ginger, the most plugged-in of the group.  John Gallagher, Jr. is Lee, a slacker who is leaving the next day to slack-off on another continent, Australia.  Gallagher gives Lee an endless supply of exuberance.  Danny Kirrane is perfect as the dopey Davey, the slaughterhouse employee who is not exactly satisfied with his life but resigned to it.

Jerusalem was directed by Ian Rickson.  Not to take away from Mr. Rylance’s talent, but you don’t get a performance like his without a director like Rickson shaping it.  Rickson, Rylance, Crook and several other actors have been attached to Jerusalem since it first played the Royal Court in 2009.  There it played to accolades and major awards.  Rickson’s production is enhanced with a lush green forest set by Ultz which disappears up into the fly-space as actual plants and small live animals inhabit the space.

I just couldn’t get behind this play, it was one long diatribe and despite Rylance’s incredible performance, I found myself looking at my watch.  Fortunately for this production, most other critics have felt differently and the audience seemed to enjoy it the night I attended.  This is one of those plays I’m going to have to say may or may not appeal to you.  There is a lot of language to be absorbed in this play.  I found I didn’t have the patience for it.  Thankfully Rylance’s and Crook’s performances, kept me rapt.

View Jerusalem production credits at

Additional Info

  • Theatre: The Music Box Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 239 West 45th St. New York, NY 10019
  • Show Style: Play
  • Previews:: April 2, 2011
  • Opening Night: April 21, 2011
  • Closing: Limited 16-Week Run
Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2015 02:51