Theater review: Jerusalem
What a season it's been for Mark Rylance, who won a Tony Award three years ago for his role in "Boeing Boeing." In the fall, the actor came back to Broadway in David Hirson's verse play, "La Bete," in which he stole the show with a manic half-hour monologue.
Just a few months later, Rylance has returned - to the very same theater - to star in Jez Butterworth's ambitious drama, "Jerusalem."
The play, whose title comes from a William Blake poem, observes the larger-than-life and eccentric Johnny "Rooster" Byron, a former daredevil who now walks with a limp and lives in a caravan parked illegally in the woods of rural England.
Local teens convene at his place nightly for alcohol, drugs and raves. Since Rooster is considered a troublemaker, squatter and nuisance, the community has won legal authority to evict him.
In an early scene, he prepares a breakfast of stale milk, vodka, speed and a raw egg. He spins fantastic tales of meeting giants and being abducted to his numerous companions. But by the end, he finds himself deserted and just seconds away from destruction.
While the three-hour drama occasionally lags, it provides a fully fledged portrait of Rooster as a modern-day Falstaff. 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.
If you go: "Jerusalem" plays an open run at the Music Box Theater. 239 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200, jerusalembroadway.com.