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Jerusalem

AND did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

"Would to God that all the Lord's people were Prophets." --Numbers, xi. ch., 29 v.

--William Blake, Jerusalem
from preface to Milton a Poem in 2 Books,
To Justify the Ways of God to Men, (1804-1808)

In a speech at the end of this play inspired by Blake's poem, Johnny "Rooster" Byron beats on a drum and summons the spirits of his ancestors to defend a small piece of G-d's green earth on which he has been squatting for decades, and fend off the County authorities, whose arrival and razing of his trailer, shed, and threadbare possessions is imminent.

If award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and film director, Jez Butterworth, set out to undermine societal conventions at every level, then he succeeded in every way imaginable.

Augustus Truhn as Johnny
Augustus Truhn
as Johnny "Rooster" Byron
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
That this all-around impressive and intimate production features Augustus Truhn as Rooster, a role in which Mark Rylance won the Tony in 2011, is a blessing, because, in the wake of his performance, we cannot it imagine it performed any better anywhere. The emotional detail and abandon of Truhn's Rooster sets a high bar for the ensemble, which largely measures up.

Much like Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, written nearly a century later than Blake's Jerusalem, the verdant and bucolic woods, in which Rooster lives, are being threatened by estates for the nouveau riche. During this same period of time (between Blake and Chekhov), Euro-Americans nearly wiped out all Native American and buffalo populations from North America.

(Left to right) Mark Collins as Wesley and Jonathan Brown as Ginger, (seated) Samara Bridwell as Tanya, and (background) Augustus Truhn as Johnny
(L to R) Mark Collins as Wesley
and Jonathan Brown as Ginger,
(seated) Samara Bridwell as Tanya,
and (background) Augustus Truhn
as Johnny
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
Rooster will have none of it, defying bourgeois society and runaway materialism by inviting friends, acquaintances, and underage neophytes to "Party on!" and imbibe accordingly. His troupe of dreamers and misfits is a panoply of characters not seen since the days of King Lear and Rob in the Hood.

As in any groupthink, someone is always the butt of everyone's jokes, and in this case it's Ginger (Jonathan Brown), an unemployed plasterer who aspires to be a DJ. Brown's refined transparency as the gullible overgrown Ginger sets up his continuous painful embarrassments, while begging the question: What personal and systemic conditions prevent Ginger's fulfillment?

(Left to right) Rick Williams as Professor and Augustus Truhn as Johnny
(L to R) Rick Williams as Professor
and Augustus Truhn as Johnny
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
Much like the stock character Il Dottore from Commedia dell'arte, the Professor (Rick Williams) expounds on any and everything, without making much sense, which in this case is a delight, since there is no presumption of truth, only satire.

And then there's Mark Collins' Wesley, as if the DNA from a smitten Malvolio and the mad Lear were somehow combined and shuffled with a commercial twist.

Bethany Richardson as Phaedra
Bethany Richardson as Phaedra
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
While we may, at first, be put off by Rooster's band of outsiders, there's no denying their biting commentary regarding our presumptions of societal organization: To what degree must we travel for perspective and fulfillment (Lee [John Hauser] versus Davey [Ben Hilzer]); What befalls women and children within such a loose set of boundaries (Pea [Ren Manley] and Tanya [Samara Bridwell], as well as Phaedra [Bethany Richardson] and Dawn [Emily Paton Davies] and her son, Markey [Harrison Lyles-Smith]); and, What is the difference between civil authorities (such as Ms. Fawcett [Erica Fox] and Mr. Parsons [Peter Marullo]) and child molesters, such as Troy (Marc Stith)?

The Edge Theater's production of Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, directed by Warren Sherrill, runs through May 24th. For tickets: 303-232-0363 or www.theedgetheater.com.

Bob Bows

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