(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/21.)
The first time you hear the rumble in “Jerusalem,” the magnificent play by Jez Butterworth, you don’t think that it’s just a good sound effect or a subway passing beneath. A thundery whisper, like a premonition of earthquakes, fills the air every time someone looks deep, but really deep, into the eyes of Johnny Byron. And since Johnny Byron is portrayed by Mark Rylance, in a seismic performance that threatens to level the old Music Box Theater, this registers as utterly natural cause and effect.
Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? I mean, the idea of someone making the earth move when you look into his eyes is the sort of notion you find in cheap romance novels or a sci-fi comic book. And Mr. Rylance’s character in “Jerusalem,” which opened on Thursday night in an enthralling production directed by Ian Rickson, seems on first acquaintance like a pretty sad joke himself: a boastful wreck of a man held together by drugs and drink, existing as a 24-hour party guy in a squalid mobile home in the English countryside.