Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jerusalem: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

You ride the Rooster, one way or the other. If you like him, as you will, despite your better judgement, you'll end up being enthralled with Jez Butterworth's Tony-winning three hour three-act opus "Jerusalem." But you won't be able to ignore the small part of your still-functioning brain that reminds you: "This guy is a creep. He deserves whatever he gets."

Johnny "Rooster" Byron is played to confounding perfection by Brian Dykstra. True, he is a dropout, living in a decrepit mobile home rapidly decaying like the rest of the forest in which he has located himself. True, his only friends are the teenagers to whom he provides booze and sells drugs. True, he is studiously avoiding his fate, numbing himself with any substance he can scrounge from his many stashes.

The Rooster is also delusional. But so was Don Quijote. One man's weirdo is another man's prophet. And within his madness there is a level of truth with which we can all identify. Despite his attempt to call in the giants with his drum, we all know that eventually his self-named Rooster's Forest will be leveled and turned into an expansion of the suburb just across the way. We understand his cocksure refusal to come to grips with this knowledge. But we also know there is power in resistance and we want The Rooster to fight it out.

Here is our only problem with this opus -- we love the two act setup. But in Act Three we wait for what we will not receive. We are ready to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid leap defiantly into their final fusilade. 

"Jerusalem" is a play about England, with a rural English collection of idioms and cultural terms. You won't understand a small percentage of the language, but it won't matter. Performances are so strong, particularly by Dykstra and Ian Scott McGregor who plays Ginger as Rooster's Sancho Panza, that you will be thrown happily downstream into the action along with the rest of us. Joe Estlak plays the menacing Troy, managing somehow to place his defiant skull a foot in front of the rest of his body, Paris Hunter Paul is Lee, who is smart enough to want to leave his dead-end home, while Christopher Reber is very good as poor sore-foot Wesley.

Bill English's set is masterful. The stage is trashed before the curtain even rises. Characters pop out of sofas, from under the mobile home, or from behind a clothes line. English also directs, which is probably one reason for the measured insanity that is the power of this production.

 So it all comes down to whether or not you believe you are rooting for the underdog if you throw in with the Rooster. Is he a hero? An anti-hero? A bum? One thing is for sure: Jez Butterworth has given us the rare epic, the story that does not pander to the supposed attention-gap lap in theater culture. Stay tuned in and you will find a great deal to cheer about.

RATINGS  ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Jerusalem" Four Stars. You cannot deny the brash energy of this show. The acting of the entire ensemble is superb. Performance, direction, writing and set all earn one Star each.

Someone please tell Troy to put down the ax. There's another show tomorrow.

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street (upstairs at Kensington Park Hotel), San Francisco
Through Mar 8

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