By Beki Pineda; Image: Edge Theater Company
JERUSALEM. Written by Jez Butterworth; directed by Warren Sherrill. Produced by the Edge Theater Company (1560 Teller St., Lakewood) through May 24. Tickets available at 303-232-0363 or www.theedgetheater.com.
As I sat in the darkened Edge theater, I could turn my head and see other audience members or the door to the lobby. But when I looked at the stage, it all disappeared. I was immediately transported to the yard in front of a well-worn Airstream, obviously parked for years with trash overflowing and a shabby sofa that served as a magnet for the young people of the village of Flintock, County Wiltshire, southwest England. This is a small domain ruled over by Johnny “Rooster” Byron—drug dealer, father figure, chum, big brother, rebel, drunkard. The crisis in Johnny’s life is that his little spot of heaven is under threat of being demolished to make way for a middle-class housing project. Johnny seems to feel that simply the force of his presence and his mental determination will keep destruction at bay. If you ignore it, it will go away.
The current gang of “rats” (as he calls the young people who flock to his personal Hamlin) gather to prepare to attend the Flintock County Fair, a small provincial gathering that features such world-class events as Morris dancing and the “donkey drop” (I’ll let them explain that one). It’s not much, but it’s all they’ve got in the way of entertainment. Other than getting high and drunk at Johnny’s.
We follow this band of vagabonds as they move through Johnny’s supposed last 24 hours on the property. One boy is leaving the next morning for Australia to escape the lack of opportunity provided by the village. One girl is determined to give him a free shag before he goes. Johnny’s best—and nearly only—friend Ginger bemoans not knowing about the wild party the night before. The local pubkeeper stops by to get a hit so he can make it through the day in a silly costume for the fair. Johnny’s ex-wife drops off their son so he can go to the fair with his da. Seemingly innocuous happenings that all paint a picture of Johnny’s life.
A complicated character, Johnny denigrates the people around him with true English insults and yet shows genuine affection and care for the ragtag group that comes in and out of his sphere. The older characters share a history with him, and tales of past escapades are revealed. The storytelling is so dense that complete histories are suggested. Johnny loves telling tall tales and enthralls the gathering with the story of how he met a 90-foot-tall giant who claimed to have built Stonehenge. In return for a favor, the giant supposedly gave him a drum to call for assistance when he needed it. By play’s end, you are mentally demanding, “Let there be giants.”
Such complete and total authenticity has been shown in building the environment and community within which the people of this play move and communicate that they no longer seem to be actors. There is a familiarity, a knowledge of each other, that goes way beyond rehearsing together. By way of example, a rather important prop got broken on stage the night I was there. Rather than ignore the obvious, Johnny did what any “real” person would do: He cleaned up the mess and rescued the prop. To do so, he had to exit into the Airstream for about 30 seconds, leaving two other people on stage. They reacted as two other “real” people would have done in those circumstances—with impatience and confusion. They silently consulted each other, moved toward the door of the Airstream to see what was going on, and waited impatiently, all in character. Repairs done, Johnny comes back on stage, the female government inspector gives him an “It’s about time” glare (totally in character for her), and the scene continues. It takes faith, confidence in your fellow actors, commitment to the story and intelligence not to lose your way, even temporarily, when something like that happens.
This “community of actors” is part and parcel of the work of director Warren Sherrill and actor Augustus Truhn. Warren’s understanding of the heart of the playwright, Jez Butterworth, and his gift for building an ensemble out of a diverse group are the gifts he brings. The towering physical and emotional presence of Augustus as Johnny is such that I cannot imagine anyone else playing the part. His ease of movement, his casual familiarity with his environment, his unflappable confidence in his winning ways, and yet his vulnerability with his son, his tenderness with his ex-wife, his true affection for his chum Ginger—all contribute to the giant of a man that is Johnny Byron brought to beautiful life by Augustus Truhn.
It is also a testament to the importance of the Edge to the theater community that talented players like Erica Fox, Mark Collins, Emily Paton Davies and Marc Stith are willing to take small but crucial roles in the production just to be a part of it. Just so you get the point of all of this, it’s a really strong script full of interesting characters performed by dedicated and talented people. The house was not full enough on a recent Sunday night; there should have been a waiting list of people clamoring to get in. Don’t wait till the last weekend to see this. You won’t be able to get a ticket when word gets out.
WOW factor: 9.5