‘Jerusalem’ on Broadway: What did the critics think?


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Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ received numerous accolades when in opened at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2009 and on the West End the following year. The British drama, starring Mark Rylance, recently transferred to Broadway where the acclaim has sprung anew.

‘Jerusalem’ is a state-of-England play that tells the story of Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron (Rylance), an uncouth drug dealer living in a caravan parked in the backwoods. During the course of the approximately three-hour drama, Rooster must deal with an estranged son, a gaggle of drunk friends, local officials who want to evict him from the land and more. (The title of the play refers somewhat ironically to the patriotic British hymn by Hubert Parry that is based on the poem by William Blake.)


The Broadway production features much of the same creative team and cast as the London productions, including director Ian Rickson. Joining the cast is John Gallagher Jr., recently of the musical ‘American Idiot.’

‘Jersualem’ marks the return of Rylance to Broadway after his Tony-winning performance in ‘Boeing-Boeing’ in 2008 and in ‘La Bete’ last year. The British actor, who spent much of his youth in the U.S., won the Olivier Award for ‘Jerusalem’ in 2010.

How did American critics respond to the very English ‘Jerusalem’?

Ben Brantley of the New York Times described the play as ‘magnificent,’ with Rylance giving ‘a seismic performance ... his Johnny Byron is truly a performance for the ages.’ While the story is undeniably England-centric, the ‘New York production — which retains half its original British cast and has been revised for clarity of cultural references — turns out to be rousingly accessible on these shores.’ The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney called it a ‘sprawling, shattering play,’ praising Rylance’s performance as ‘astonishing.’ The actor’s ‘loopy physicality and staggering vocal command, his sly playfulness and explosive bursts of intensity make him a mad genius.’

Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News described the play as ‘sprawling and mostly engaging,’ with the ‘outstanding’ Rylance carrying the story. Despite the actor’s magnetism, the play ‘yields diminishing returns. The plot goes in circles and collapses during a contrived meeting between Johnny and Marky.’

The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote that the character of Rooster ‘was engineered to generate glowing reviews and award nominations. Some have pooh-poohed ‘War Horse’ for being contrived, but in its own way, Jez Butterworth’s button-pushing drama is just as shrewdly sentimental.’ The play ‘has a punch-in-the-gut virtuosity. Yet the cumulative effect, over three hours, is numbing.’


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-- David Ng