Chicago Theatre Review
Profiles Stages Bold, Unsparing Midwest Premiere of ‘Jerusalem’
Jerusalem – Profiles Theatre
Staging a play like Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem” is a tall order for any theater company, and for two main reasons: first, the play was a smash in both its original UK staging and its U.S. premiere on Broadway, and cemented Butterworth’s status as a preeminent modern playwright; and second, it vaulted Mark Rylance into the spotlight, whose career has not slowed down since (he recently won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”).
So yes, it takes a bold theater company to take on such a work for its Midwest premiere, but Profiles Theatre, which has never shied away from challenging works in its history, has offered a superlative staging of “Jerusalem,” one that challenges and invigorates the audience in equal measure.
Set on St. George’s Day, the morning of the local county fair, “Jerusalem” follows the exploits of Johnny “Rooster” Byron, a petty drug dealer and full-time nonconformist who lives in a ramshackle trailer in the shadows of a glistening new suburban development. A hero to the confused teenage rebels of frequent his residence for drugs, booze, and tall tales, Byron is a larger than life personality, the kind who will brag about the purity of his blood and how he was conceived of a virgin birth – from a semen-satured stray bullet.
Of course, there are considerable troubles in the counterfeit paradise where Byron resides, and over its wild two and a half hours, Butterworth’s urban poetry guides the audience through his sad character’s lives – people who do not quite fit in with the modern capitalist society, but cannot find anything more suitable to devote their passions. And I should add, the action takes place in an impeccably constructed stage by Thad Hallstein, one that merges the fantastical elements of the play with its brutal realism.
The cast is uniformly excellent, but who are we kidding? This is Byron’s play through and through, and the character is given an overwhelming performance from Darrell W. Cox. One of Chicago’s most revered actors, the four-time Jeff winner sinks his teeth in the role with unique relish, and spits out a character that is both loquacious and perfunctory, braggadocios and vulnerable, admirable and revolting, irritating and sympathetic. It’s a ferocious piece of acting, and one I may very well experience again before the play ends its run.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through April 24 by Profiles Theatre, 4147 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60613
Tickets are available by calling 773-549-1815 or by visiting www.profilestheatre.org
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.