Jerusalem is a critically acclaimed 2009 play by Jez Butterworth, frequently hailed as the most important new play of the 21st century and a seminal classic in the making. Of particular note is the almost universally lauded performance of longtime leading man Mark Rylance, whose profile soared on the strength of his turn as Johnny "Rooster" Byron (some critics went so far as to compare him to Laurence Olivier)Johnny Byron, an eccentric ex-daredevil turned hard-drinking, trailer-dwelling hermit, lives in the midst of an idyllic pastoral forest on the outskirts of his small town. He attracts a royal court of misfits and outsiders, including some local teenagers whom he supplies drugs and alcohol. Johnny's drunken antics and drug-peddling make him a bur under the town's saddle and as the play begins a longtime campaign to evict and/or arrest him nears its endgame. At stake is more than just Johnny's wayward lifestyle; developers have an eye on turning his plot of forest into suburban sprawl, as they have most of the surrounding region. On St. George's Day, Johnny makes his last stand, and he and his followers have the chance to learn what they and each other are really made of."Jerusalem" premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2009 to ecstatic reviews before moving to the Apollo Theatre in 2010, where it played until early 2012. For part of 2011 the production left the Apollo to play on Broadway with most of the original cast. In early 2014 a new production opened in San Francisco, the first and so far only American production and the first without Butterworth or Rylance on hand.This show contains examples of the following:
Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Johnny, in a drunken mania, destroys his television, then doesn't remember doing it the next day. Even when shown a video of himself clearing doing the deed he declares the incident, "A complete fucking mystery."
Earlier in the same scene we learn that Johnny is now barred from every bar in town, complete with a Homeric list of his heinous acts in each.
Anti-Hero: Johnny is very much an anti-hero in the classical sense: Someone who lacks most openly heroic traits but who is our (surprisingly sympathetic) protagonist anyway.
Arbitrary Skepticism: Ginger is sometimes eager to accept Johnny's stories at face value but keen to poke holes in them other times.
Break-Up Bonfire: Lee is breaking up not with a woman but with his hometown—When he can't manage to sell any of his worldly possessions on eBay, he burns them instead.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The professor seems like he'd actually be a damn good teacher if you can just get past the fact that he's, you know, insane.
Butt Monkey: Ginger, Johnny's put-upon right-hand man and court jester. To an even greater degree, Wesley, Johnny's childhood pal turned pub manager who gets no respect from anyone. And, in a very real way, even Johnny himself.
Cluster F-Bomb: It's a toss-up whether the word "fuck" or the word "cunt" make more appearances in the script. We should note tat the latter is not nearly as serious a swear in England as in America.
Contemplating Your Hands: During Ginger's freakout he can't figure out why his hand feels so heavy. He's carrying a coconut.
Crappy Carnival: The St. George's Day Fair is the highlight of the season, but it's also considered a rather listless, tacky affair. The diminished quality of the festivities over the decades represent the townspeople's alienation from their cultural heritage and the pagan trappings of past epochs.
Cruel to Be Kind: Johnny verbally runs Ginger down in pretty merciless fashion at the end of the show, but presumably does it to keep him from sticking around and getting hurt.
Inverted with Troy: He's arguably doing Johnny a favor by revealing that the kids don't really respect him...but he's still just doing it to be a dick.
Curse: In the end Johnny curses the developers and the ground they want to build on. Does it work? Depends on your interpretation.
The Dragon Slayer: The play is set on St. George's Day, and the myth of St. George slaying the dragon is an important leitmotif. It is possible that Johnny is meant to be the dragon, or that he is meant to be the knight—or perhaps both.
Drugs Are Bad: Played with. The show certainly does depict the negative effects of longterm drub abuse, but audiences are clearly steered toward the conclusion that the problem is really the people rather than the drugs. Well over three quarters of the cast get high at some point in the show, and about half of them are taking some kind of drug or another nonstop.
Harmful to Minors: We never do find out what makes Phaedra run away (and get help from Johnny of all people), but it's presumably much, much worse than any of the routine debauchery we see going on—which is pretty scary to think about.
I Need a Freaking Drink: First thing in the morning Johnny downs a cocktail consisting of milk, whiskey, cocaine, and a single raw egg. Note that the egg is real, and that Mark Rylance (and other actors in the role) actually downs it onstage in one go.
Innocence Lost: At the heart of the play lies the question of just when and how children lose their innocence—and whether or not their elders are fooling themselves about it.
In a less literal sense, the loss of Johnny's woods represents the end of a kind of natural, rural innocent in England.
Irish Traveller: Probably Johnny; he's called a "Pikey" and a "Gypo" pretty routinely. He does, however, claim to have Romany blood—whether this is true or just another part of the Byron mystique is hard to tell.
Jerk Ass: Pretty much everyone at some point. But Troy is the designated "town cunt."
Johnny rebuts the petition filed against him by listing off the faults and prejudices of each person on it. One guy he dismisses simply because, "He's a cunt."
Landmark of Lore: Stonehenge lies not far from the town and from Johnny's trailer, and is an important part of the mythology of Johnny's own life.
Last Fertile Region: Johnny's woods are framed as a kind of last holdout against suburban encroachment. Notable that the town plans to drive him out with bulldozers.
Magic Mirror: When Troy was younger and one of Johnny's regulars, he one night poured wine onto a silver plate ("Like a mirror of blood") and spread playing cards ("The old kind, with the devil on the back.") around it to serve as a kind of makeshift Magic Mirror. Whatever he saw in it spooked him so bad he never came back.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Johnny is full of tale tales about giants, fairies, magic and the like. They're almost certainly all lies. Almost certainly.
Meaningful Name: Johnny bares the Byron name, perhaps a nod to the great libertine poet. Ginger's last name is "Yeats."
My Local: Coopers, apparently the pub most favored by the relevant characters and where Wesley works. Johnny has been banned from every pub in town for his drunken antics.
Mystical Pregnancy: Johnny claims that he was conceived when a bullet passed through his father's scrotum and struck his(virgin) mother's belly. Eight months and some odd days later he was born, with the bullet clenched between his teeth.
Nature Hero: Johnny, in a highly singular example. He's also something of a force of nature: At various points he's compare, directly or indirectly, to an ogre, a troll, a werewolf, and a dragon.
Never Accepted in His Hometown: Everyone in town loves Johnny—until they grow up and/or are suddenly expected to behave like respectable people, at which point they tend to turn him.
Never Gets Drunk: Actually, everyone was *very* drunk the night before. But during the course of the show everyone chugs gallons of booze and doesn't really show much for it. Perhaps justified if we consider that they're very probably *already drunk* when they start.
Only Mostly Dead — Early on, Ginger tells the teenagers a story about Johnny's daredevil days that starts like this: "He tried to jump twenty eighteen-wheelers, and he fucked it up, and died." Turns out, Johnny survived.
Our Giants Are Bigger: Johnny's supposedly magic drum will, if played, awaken all the great old giants who once roamed ancient England—he says.
Parental Incest: Johnny accuses Troy of being a little too sweet on Phaedra. Whether there's any grounds for this is never revealed.
Patriotic Fervor: Despite its seedy trappings, "Jerusalem" is very much an ode to love of country, and a lament for what has perhaps been lost in English cultural tradition.
Smalltown Boredom: Lee's subplot revolves around his desire to escape town and broaden his horizons. Phaedra asks Johnny why he stays and he replies, "This town is no worse than any other place," which she considers a "depressing" prospect.
Soundtrack Dissonance: Fairport Convention's gentle, wistful "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" plays while Johnny is savagely beaten.
Strawman Has a Point: The county workers are pale, callow caricatures, and Johnny is certainly right when he points out that his critics are by and large hypocrites—but that doesn't mean they're wrong about him.
Sex With The Ex: Johnny tries to convince Dawn to "Come on back tonight." She is obviously sorely tempted, even as she remains angry with him and herself.
The Revolutin Will Not Be Civilized: Johnny and his sidekicks stage a mock revolution (basically just a party, as usual) in protest of the housing development. Even the Professor joins in, noting that "English revolutions are by their nature bloody affairs" and encouraging an attitude of casual violence. (He's joking. Also, incredibly high.)
Titled After the Song — In this case, the famous English hymn by Hubert Parry, the lyrics of which come from the poem "And did those feet in ancient time" by William Blake. The song is performed at the very top of the show, and later on, by Phaedra.
Walking the Earth: Lee's plan to leave town and move to Australia for no particularly well-defined reason forms a significant subplot.
Watering It Down: Johnny apparently cuts his meth with chalk. He notes that no one complains once they're high.
What Did I Do Last Night?: About half of the first act is the main cast waking up in the ruins of last night's party: Lee actually wakes up screaming, "Where am I?" Johnny has smashed his own TV to bits but doesn't remember it even when they show him the video; Tanya has shit stains on her blouse and the rest of the cast take turns trying to guess its origins (they eventually settle on it being badger shit), etc.
Who's Your Daddy?: Johnny hints that he may, in fact, be Phaedra's father. It is possible that this is true or just that he's saying it to take the piss out of Troy. Or, most likely, both.