Thursday, April 21, 2011
Lured by the prospect of seeing Mark Rylance in another prize-winning performance, I attended the final preview of the London import Jerusalem at the Music Box. Three things that I have a very low tolerance for are plays about trailer dwellers, plays about heavy drug users and/or drunks, and plays that resort to blasting my eardrums with loud rock music to get my attention. Within 30 seconds, it was clear that I had hit the trifecta and was in for a long (3 hours and 5 minutes, to be exact) tough slog. Rylance plays Johnny "Rooster" Byron, a modern Pied Piper, whose drugs and booze attract a sorry lot of hangers-on to his trailer in the woods on the edge of a Wiltshire town. The action takes place on St. George's Day, on the eve of Rooster's threatened eviction by the local town council to make way for a housing estate. Much drinking, snorting and using the "c" word ensue. Perhaps playwright Jez Butterworth's goal was to bemoan the sterility of life in present-day England and lament the loss of any connection to ancient English folk traditions. The hymn Jerusalem from a poem by Blake is sung at the beginning of Acts I and II, but the significance of the words was lost on me because they were either inaudible or unintelligible. The only bright spots of the evening were the tall tales Rooster tells with such great flair. Rylance's performance is indeed a tour de force, but not sufficient reason to endure a tedious evening. For me to enjoy a play, there must be at least a character or two that I care for or want to know more about; in this case there were none. The play was enthusiastically received in London. Maybe you have to be English to fully appreciate it. Fairness requires that I report that many people around me seemed to be enjoying the evening. Ian Rickson directed the mostly British cast.