Jerusalem – I’ll Cry if I Want to

A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE

The first few moments into FPCT’s Jerusalem are absolutely horrible.   A disheveled man swans and swaggers his way across one of the most disgusting places I’ve ever seen, a post-hard-party trailer yard (set from Christopher Flint is top-notch) covered in all manner of unholy litter.  The man washes in a moldy water barrel, eats a raw egg out of a dirty glass (there was a moment I was sure he was going to use one filled with cigarette butts, and my stomach hitched).  It’s just gross, it’s gross, it’s great.  I actually thought, “Well, there’s nowhere to go from here, this is it, this is the play.”  I was wrong, of course, I’m always wrong when I think that in the first fifteen seconds, but, you know, in a way, it’s kind of right.   Director Ann Turiano packs a lot into this first take, she front-loads with what we need to know about this nasty, purposely stubborn and defiant creature we’re about to spend the next three hours with.  I don’t like this guy, Rooster (Ian Blackwell Rogers), but I’m drawn to him, and that’s much, much better.

And I’m clearly not the only one.  Rooster is surrounded by orbiters, partners in crime, who live with and around him outside of a rural English village.  The town is all jazzed up for the local fair, hyper for it in a way that let’s you know not much happens around here.  Rooster is a Pied Piper of sorts, supplying the local teens with drugs and places to fuck, telling tall drunk tales to the few people who are still impressed by them, including the spaced-out Professor (a surprisingly haunting Sean Coe) and a long-in-the-tooth DJ called Ginger (David Shoemaker).  Rooster’s brand of hollow fun is a little less intriguing to the local authorities, who would like to see him clean up his vice dump and get the fuck out.  This plays out more or less like you think it would, with the main thrust Rooster’s continual chafing at authority, and increasingly desperate efforts to forestall the inevitable.

But playwright Jez Butterworth intends more, so much more, than that sketchy plot description.  American eyes will have a hard time with this, either that, or I’m just too stupid to understand it all, thank God for Google.  So much whizzes by in nearly incomprehensible accents (not a ding on the acting, that’s really how people sound in Britain, I once heard it described as “Masterpiece Theater slowed down AND fast-forwarded”).  Butterworth packs in so many allusions to literature, and history, and myth, that it starts to be a tiring, somewhat overstuffed nest.  There are fascinating themes here about primal, ancestral things that live in the woods, and the desire to tame and subdue outside influences, but they’re largely lost in the grand schema of the work.  There’s something slimy about the way Butterworth approaches the female characters, too, as empty-headed muffins without a lot to do, other than prop up or be shouty at the predatory men.  This is a darkness that would have been interesting to see Turiano tease out of the script, but she disappointingly doesn’t, at least to any substantial degree.

In a show like this, largely told from one character’s point of view, the actor has to really pull something off, and Rogers, thankfully, does (three hours is a long time).  He’s captivating, his dark eyes hold a dare that you don’t quiiiite want to take.  He is particularly effective in moments where Rooster’s filthy castle, his larger-than-life persona, starts falling apart, like when he looks into the face of the son he’s all but abandoned, or the ex-wife on whom he’s rendered a little too much damage.  Those moments take more than bravado, they take a certain kind of odd, resigned, guarded vulnerability, and Rogers has it.  I don’t really give a fuck about what happens to Rooster, but Rogers makes me care about what he represents, a weirdo on his last stand, an awkward King of Fools.  Supporting cast is largely strong, with Nate Krimmel standing out as a doltish, yet appealing, young man named Lee, and Molly Cohen as an ethereal Phaedra, who has a manner that suggests that she might actually be a member of the wee folk.  I also liked a brief appearance from the comedy team of Heather Johnston and Justin Johnson as a couple of town officials.  Johnston especially brings a hilarious world-weariness to the proceedings; I don’t envy her years-long relationship with a guy like Rooster.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  I might be one of the rare few that find Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem more dizzying than captivating, but this production is seductive in a ton of ways, from the richness of the set to the cadence of the accents, to the uneasy feeling that the edge may be making a stand.  It’s the kind of bold choice on the small stage that I live for, a big, difficult, breathtakingly daring show, fearlessly tackled.  I say yes.

Jerusalem runs at Fells Point Corner Theatre through February 3rd.

SECOND OPINION?  https://bitrsisters.com/2019/01/23/jerusalem/

 

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