The new Olivier by way of John Belushi, Mark Rylance is willing to go to even darker places than an electrician in a power blackout.
Three years ago, he won a Tony for his Buster Keaton-ish deadpan in Boeing Boeing, and more recently he played a scary vulgarian who spoke in verse in the stimulating La Bete.
Well, nowadays, he’s sporting tattoos, a mustache, some bulk, and a limp as an anarchic rebel in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, which invokes the Blake poem by that name, as well as the tale of St. George vs. the dragon, but is basically set outside a messy trailer.
No, it’s not a jukebox musical.
The play has Rylance as “Rooster,” an ex-daredevil who hosts raunchy raves for teens, but whose jig is up as “the new estate” crouches in on his revelry and prepares to bulldoze it in favor of a sanitized England.
As Rooster indulges in his blazing antiheroics, the play veers from Brit TV-style hijinks to some striving for profundity involving blood, drums, and invocations.
The metaphorical longing for a lost UK becomes a bit ponderous and hard to take after three hours, but I welcome anything with a statement and the theatrical means to blare it.
And through it all, Rylance takes it to the max — and the mat.
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.
Jerusalem plus ham? That equals a selective but enthusiastic audience.
Any serious theatergoer who misses an event like this should be bulldozed in favor of condos.
PS: Between this play and The Book of Mormon, this is the best year for the word cunt in ages! There might have to be a special Tony category.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 21, 2011