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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Dark humor, abstract plot drive ‘Jerusalem’

    England is experiencing a serious identity crisis in The Rogue Theatre’s latest production of “Jerusalem.”

    The country of rolling green hills is in a state of decay both physically and mentally in Jez Butterworth’s contemporary drama. Taking place in a piece of pastoral wilderness, this production immediately hits the audience with strong visual paradoxes by obtrusively dumping a grimy, rustic trailer in the foreground of a seemingly enchanting forest.

    Housed inside this unsightly mobile home is social outcast Johnny “Rooster” Byron, who unapologetically litters England’s countryside with piles of empty beer cans and smashed television sets.

    When England’s bureaucratic government gives him a legal ordinance to vacate his trailer-trash kingdom, Byron has one day to think of a plan to protect his sanctuary from being bulldozed to make way for new housing development. Taking place around the festivities of St. George’s Day, the timing becomes symbolic of Byron’s predicament as he himself personifies the legendary patron saint who must slay the monstrous dragon that is now England.

    Not so much a plot-driven play, Butterworth’s three-hour character study is more of an exploration of insignificant, low-life individuals who represent a grander problem plaguing the Motherland. In Butterworth’s world, England has lost the stimulating bravado from the Elizabethan days of its Renaissance, and has instead descended into a monotonous state of Orwellian conformity.

    Exploding with raucous energy in the play’s opening scene, the audience is introduced to a tribe of teenage misfits who have found refuge in Byron’s tawdry dump. England’s next generation is in a sorry state of mindless pleasure seeking, fueled on alcohol and cocaine.

    A willing drug supplier for these underage hooligans, Byron is a protagonist with few redeeming qualities, yet the audience cannot help but be charmed by his untamable spirit. He entertains his angsty followers with elaborate tall tales from his younger days and weaves an enigmatic air around his identity; this makes the audience uncertain of what to believe about this indignant rebel.

    Despite his vulgar habits, actor Joseph McGrath makes sure Byron is presented as the most authentic, gallant character of the play. Surrounded by wimpy, artificial buffoons, who have been suppressed by a country thirsty for some individuality, Byron becomes a prophet for England’s frailties.

    Highlighting the ill-effects of mass industrialization and a globalized media, Byron effectively makes the argument as to how he is the last British person to be unscathed by the country’s affectations. His distinctive character is seen as a threat to England’s well-being.

    David Morden, an assistant professor in the School of Theatre, Film and Television, nicely foils McGrath’s Byron as local pub-owner, Wesley. Morden gives the right amount of bubbly awkwardness for Wesley to represent England’s cowardliness as he fumbles around the stage with a timid meekness reminiscent of Ned Flanders.

    The crop of young talent portraying Byron’s league of adolescent scoundrels maintains a great deal of savage energy throughout this long drama. Adjusting to British lingo such as “whizzes” and “wangers,” the cast quickly jumps on to the spitfire rhythm of Butterworth’s text.

    Name-dropping numerous British emblems such as the Spice Girls and Susan Boyle, Butterworth’s script suggests that England has become oversaturated with pop culture and has lost an appreciation for its own history. The job is left to the irresponsible Byron to educate the world on what made England so great. The title, “Jerusalem,” complements Byron’s mission: It is derived from a 19th-century poem by William Blake, who preached for British society to rise above the “satanic mills” of the Industrial Revolution to rebuild England as the holy land.

    Whether or not Byron succeeds in this task is left ambiguous, as The Rogue Theatre ends the show by filling the stage with the resonance of a beating drum: a call to arms to take back England from those in charge.

    Though a decisively British play, “Jerusalem” displays themes that carry across the pond to an American audience. With its dark humor and abstract plot devices, it is a delightful accumulation of Butterworth’s artistic genius.

    Performances began at The Rogue Theatre on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and will run until Nov. 23. Pre-show music will begin 15 minutes before every performance, and a post-show Q&A with the cast and director will be held after every performance.


    Follow Kevin C. Reagan on Twitter.

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