Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mark Rylance Is the Biggest Attraction in 'Jerusalem'

Johnny “Rooster” Byron is a proud non-conformist in "Jerusalem." Photo by Simon Annand.


“Rooster” Byron (Mark Rylance) is not a revolutionary; he is the revolution!

Johnny, the dubious hero of “Jerusalem,” a play about one man’s resistance to conformity, dispenses drugs and drink to minors out of a ramshackle trailer in the woods near a middle-class English town.

In “Jerusalem,” currently at the Music Box Theatre in an extended run through 21 Aug., Jez Butterworth has written an idyll of squalor. The “Jerusalem” of the title refers to a hymn, beloved in England, inspiring optimism and hope, and venerating the uniqueness of the country.

Johnny, in his renegade ways, aspires to that same spirit, in a kind of “Live Free or Die” fashion. The town’s youngsters are drawn as much to his dissident and subversive nature as they are to the “epic” parties he throws. (See video at

Johnny has no desire to be respectable. His war with authority is in part a class war. His neighbors and the local constabulary are more interested in removing Johnny’s eyesore of a home so that a housing development can be built near the Wiltshire forest than in stopping his illegal trade.

Mackenzie Crook as Ginger in "Jerusalem." Photo by Joan Marcus.

In “Jerusalem,” MR, who lends his exuberance to every role, has material worthy of his colossal talent. By the way, MR was rewarded for his performance with the 2011 Best Actor Tony. Johnny, who moves in a non-stop whirl of action and inventive talk, weaving his own myth, gets all of MR’s unstinting dynamism.

Although MR’s portrait overwhelms, the large cast includes many a worthy performance, including a very fine turn by Max Baker as Wesley, a local innkeeper forced to choose propriety over his friendship with Johnny. Geraldine Hughes as Johnny’s ex-wife, Dawn, also stands out as a troubled soul undermined by her addictions.

There are myriad reasons besides the extraordinary performances to see JB’s odd and exciting new drama. Be warned, however – “Jerusalem” is a challenge and many may find it offensive. It is also brilliant.

Visit to learn more about “Jerusalem.”

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