Mark Rylance, the star of "Jerusalem," gives the sort of brilliant performance that when the curtain falls, the audience needs a moment to snap out of the trance he's put everyone under.
In an age when people consider ovations the obligatory end to any performance, the one that follows the ending of "Jerusalem" is the real deal. After nearly three hours of the electrifying performance at The Music Box, people force themselves to leave the fascinating world of Johnny "Rooster" Byron.
By the play's end, Rylance, who gave two amazingly different yet exquisite performances this season ("Jerusalem" and "La Bete"), is drenched. He won a Tony in 2008 for his terrific work in "Boeing-Boeing" and it's no surprise he's garnered a nomination for this performance.
Rylance spends much of this new play wet. Very early in he does a headstand into a
water trough to help jolt him out of a hangover. No worries about his mic shorting out, Rylance does not use one. He does not need to.
Soon, he's splattered with a milk, egg and vodka concoction, apparently more of his hangover cure. It seems superfluous, though, because Johnny spends most of his time drunk and stoned.
Set in real time and taking place in the present, the entire play unfolds in the unkempt yard of a trailer in the woods in Flintrock, near Stonehenge. A couple of officious bureaucrats post an eviction notice on his door.
His plans were to smoke a spliff and watch "Antiques Roadshow." He would also relive a bit of last night's revelry to his acolyte, Ginger ( Mackenzie Crook), and deal with whomever wanders by, as people are constantly stopping by.
Johnny is a renegade, a warrior and utterly unconcerned with the rest of the townsfolk, who hate him. But don't take him for a fool.
He also has what makes someone a leader, the sort of person others gravitate to in spite of themselves; Johnny listens to his own soul and follows no one. He also accepts others for who they are.
Naturally, the townsfolk hate him. Yet it's not as simple as the narrow-minded bureaucrats versus the open-minded renegade. Johnny is a blight on the town. Besides that the front of his trailer looks like the town dump, he is a drug dealer.
He also hangs out with and gives drugs to a band of ragtag teenagers and twentysomethings.
Yet he is a charmer. He tells tales that are entertaining and outlandish; at times he seems to believe them himself. Maybe he does believe that the giants will bear down and rescue him. Ultimately, it does not matter, as long as Rylance is on stage and pulling us into his orbit.
All Byron men, he insists, are born with a full set of teeth, a full head of hair and ready to do battle.
Many references are to British customs and history, and a couple of characters are delightfully and singularly British -- particularly The Professor ( Alan David). The title is from the hymn "Jerusalem," the unofficial English anthem based on William Blake's 1804 poem.
Johnny is perpetually in an altered state. And in this state he has, over the years, done the sort of antics creative drunks are prone to -- including slaughtering a pig with a flare gun in a bar.
Johnny is a former daredevil who once jumped over 17 double-decker buses, was declared dead, but walked away. He still limps.
The other actors are good, many truly fine, including John Gallagher, Jr., who was so winning in "American Idiot" and "Spring Awakening." Each actor must be, just to share the stage with Rylance. This, though, is Rylance's play.
That he can give this sort of performance once is amazing; that he can do so eight times a week defies all reason.
Photo/Video credit: Simon Annand