A three-hour epic, “Jerusalem” begins with a fairy singing the lovely poem set to music by Sir Hubert Parry, which is shattered by rock music blaring from the speakers atop Rooster’s home. From there we’re off on a harrowing but frequently hilarious ride, staged with compulsive energy by Ian Rickson in a setting by Ultz that combines nature in bloom and humanity in wreckage, lit with dappling realism by Mimi Jordan Sherin. We know it will not end well. It’s to Butterworth’s credit that we are left so conflicted by this meeting with a force of nature, in the best play of the season.
JERUSALEM Broadway Reviews
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"Jerusalem" could have been written in almost any year from the 1920s onward. Yet this work takes you places - distant, out-of-time places - that well-made plays seldom do. And it thinks big - transcendently big - in ways contemporary drama seldom dares...But Rylance also captures - to a degree I can imagine no other contemporary actor doing - Johnny's vast, vital, Falstaffian appetite for pleasure, for independence, for life itself.
"Jerusalem" clocks in at over three hours — with two intermissions — and is a marathon for Rylance, who does a headstand into a bucket of water at the beginning and then stumbles about, getting into fights, smoking drugs, drinking speed-laced beer and hysterically cocking his snoot at everyone the entire time. Director Ian Rickson might have made a few cuts to keep the running time down, particularly in the second act, which lags at times. Butterworth's script, often lyrical and always rooted, also has made no allowances for an American audience, so brush up on British slang for such drug-related terms as "snafflers" and "whizz."
Both the playwright and the production find resonance in the raves and rants of an ornery sot and his relationship to the succeeding generations of kids who use him and drop him. And much credit goes to Rylance, one of the most magnetic, fearlessly physical actors on stage today. Just as he wowed New York audiences in La Bete and Boeing Boeing, the actor uses his dense body as much as his words, this time contorting with the specific, hopping, pained hobble and the puffed-out chest of a proud, foolish, self-destructive fantasist who can't believe that his body (or at least his bum foot) has betrayed him. (Not for nothing does Rylance thank his trainer and his chiropractor in his Playbill credits.) His Johnny is a roaring wreck (he's got a wife who's left him, and a young son), barred from every pub in town. Yet he's got deep-down English pride in his battered bones. Rylance wears Johnny's contradictions like vivid warrior paint.
Only the glorious bag-of-bones Mackenzie Crook, playing an aging forever-hometown boy in a tragic hoodie, even gets close to getting close to Rylance's Rooster. But even he can't hold Rylance's eyeline for long....the show is testament to the ever-expanding voice and vision of Butterworth, whose mighty verbal broadsword just freakin' sings.
It has nothing to do with the Middle East, though it is about lost tribes. Jez Butterworth's fascinating "Jerusalem," imported from London to showcase the uncontainable and strenuous life-force named Mark Rylance, is set in a junk-piled clearing of an Old English woods where, just maybe, giants, elves and fairies once flourished.
Considering his brilliant comic turn earlier this season in the revival of La Bete and now his titanic performance in Jez Butterworth’s new play Jerusalem at the same theater, we might as well engrave actor Mark Rylance’s Tony Award right now. We also might as well hand over the Music Box Theatre to this dazzling thespian so he can pretty much do whatever he wants with it.
It seems significant that the program for Jerusalem lists no understudy for Mark Rylance, because watching his astonishing performance as Johnny "Rooster" Byron makes it impossible to imagine anyone else ever inhabiting the role. That takes nothing away, however, from the rude beauty of Jez Butterworth's sprawling, shattering play. To borrow a phrase from Rooster, it might be described as an "alcoholic, bucolic frolic," except that it's so much more.
Ian Rickson’s picturesque staging is a model of tightly paced realism, with necessary room for more stylized passages. At three hours, Jerusalem flies by, thanks to Butterworth’s terrific ear and Rylance’s tirelessly inventive turn as a man who seems half mortal, half imp, all theatrical god. And we worship him—even if his giants and fairies are not native to this land. For three hours, at least, Jerusalem’s “mountain green” and “pleasant pastures” are ours. Anybody who cares about thrilling, world-class drama must make the pilgrimage.
Although it's hard to look anywhere else when Rylance is on stage, which is all the time, Mackenzie Crook manages to turn heads with his droll perf as Ginger, the faithful hanger-on who missed last night's bacchanal and may be too strung-out for today's festivities, the St. George's Day fete that is an annual rite of spring. Under Ian Rickson's smooth helming, other colorful visitors surface from the heavy human traffic at Rooster's camp, many of them from the original Royal Court production.
Rylance takes it to the max--and the mat. Rarely has an antihero been so antiheroic. His limp alone looks so real I wouldn't be surprised if he let himself get run over by a car for the proper effect...It's a real experience, and though it becomes too ponderous and hard to take, I welcome anything with a statement and the theatrical means to blare it.
Rewardingly, too, “Jerusalem” is a large canvas, and under the resourceful guidance of director Ian Rickson, the cast of 16 — a veritable horde for a straight play on Broadway — adds to the evening’s vivid spectrum. In particular, John Gallagher Jr. and Mackenzie Crook, as two of the latter-day Lost Boys who glom onto Johnny for fellowship and a reliable high in the woods, imbue their characters with authentic feels for the insecurities of young men unsure of their identities. Alan David is splendid, too, playing a local eccentric who finds in Johnny a kindred lunatic spirit.
Rylance gives a mesmerizing, thoroughly transformative performance that will leave theatergoers in awe of his spectacular physical and vocal abilities. Tony-winner John Gallagher Jr., who joins much of the original English cast, makes an excellent addition as a local youth about to go off to Australia. Ian Rickson's production is quite beautiful, depicting the exterior of Rooster's caravan against a backdrop of large trees, garbage and patio furniture.
An award-winning hit in London, “Jerusalem” is very, very, very English in its cultural references and significance. As the play wends its garrulous way towards a baleful conclusion, some American viewers may wonder why they should care about Johnny, a messy wastrel who idly corrupts adolescents. But that would be missing the higher pretensions of Butterworth’s drama and certainly not appreciating Rylance’s deeply-immersed depiction of Johnny.
But the play, which runs more than three hours, yields diminishing returns. The plot goes in circles and collapses during a contrived meeting between Johnny and Marky. Fortunately, Rylance keeps you from tuning out. He won the 2008 Tony for his hilarious clowning in "Boeing-Boeing," and in "La Bete" earlier this season, he was sheer delight as a buffoonish actor. As Johnny, a cross between the Pied Piper and Fagan, he does everything he can, including handstands, to create a vivid and ultimately touching portrait of a magnetic maniac. Johnny's stories of giants may be nonsense, but there's no denying that Rylance wows you with performances that are larger than life.
Before the show even opened on Broadway last night, Mark Rylance's performance in "Jerusalem" was generating a big buzz. We've come to expect greatness from this actor -- he was superlative in "Boeing-Boeing" and "La Bete" -- and once again he delivers.
A child of English parents, I often cross the pond to visit relatives, so I don't think my problem with "Jerusalem" is that I don't get it. I just don't buy it.
Into every spring on Broadway a brand-new British play must fall. This year there are two, "War Horse" and Jez Butterworth's "Jerusalem," and those Anglophiles who like their accents thick and their plays pretentious will prefer the latter to the former. Indeed, "Jerusalem" is pretentious almost without limit, a three-hour save-our-England tract in which the uplift is slathered with a thick brown sauce composed of two parts coarse humor and one part pseudopoetry. In addition, "Jerusalem" features a performance by Mark Rylance ("La Bête," "Boeing-Boeing") that is every bit as good as the critical buzz that accompanied its transfer from London's West End. Connoisseurs of great acting won't want to miss him—but those with normal attention spans will be hard pressed to make it to the finish line.