‘Jerusalem’ at Profiles: Retreating from life’s troubles in a camper, striking a careless pose
By Lawrence B. Johnson
He’s Peter Pan to a collection of lost boys in the Neverland of an English woods, the Wizard of Oz beguiling these Munchkins with an endless supply of drugs and booze and empty intimations that this is as good as a happy home gets.
Meet Johnny “Rooster” Byron, detached soul and intractable, irreducible anti-hero of Jez Butterworth’s play “Jerusalem.” His wholly credible embodiment by Darrell W. Cox at Profiles Theatre stands among the high points of the Chicago season.
Rooster is a rebel unaware of a cause. He isn’t so much an anarchist as he is a devout loner, despite the motley circle of hangers-on who pass for his friends (and he for theirs). He has simply and absolutely dropped out – of his marriage and parenthood, of society, of adulthood as most of the world understands the concept.
Unfortunately for thirtysomething Rooster, his remove from anything resembling normalcy is not quite as far as the folks in the neighborhood would like. He has established his domicile, a dilapidated camping trailer, in a nearby park and the locals have grown weary of his shabby presence, his nightly hell-raising and his nefarious influence on the community’s youth. (Set designer Thad Hallstein raises trash to an art form.)
Rooster has been served with several eviction notices, which he notices not. But his time is up, and his game with it. The heavy machinery is coming to root Rooster out. And that’s not his biggest problem. (I won’t say concern; Rooster has no concerns.) The very angry father of an adolescent girl who hangs out chez Rooster has vowed to teach this amoral lout a lesson not soon to be forgotten.
But those are really just the externals, the trappings, of a fascinating psychological profile of a man who has ceased to care about anything in this world. Rooster has turned entirely inward. It might even be overstatement to say he just goes where the day takes him. He isn’t interested in going anywhere. He merely is. He eats, drinks, carouses with his acolytes and does we know not what – indeed, if anything — with the aforementioned lass. One unmeasured hour at a time, Rooster exists.
The beauty of Cox’s performance, in a production paced with cosmic patience by director Joe Jahraus, is the fragile ambiguity with which he projects Rooster’s state of mind. Is he happy? Perhaps his unfettered existence defines Rooster’s contentment. Or is he deluding himself? Is this self-possessed front he presents to his disciples no more than that – a façade he himself has willed into authenticity to mask so profound a loss of identity and purpose that he cannot bear it?
And yet Cox’s alienated Rooster can be reached: not by society’s threats or by his little band of followers, or even by his estranged wife (Erika Napoletano), but by his young son, to whom he shows a spark of genuine tenderness. If Rooster can’t be the boy’s worthy, counseling, protective father, he nonetheless feels enough of a connection to pause in his oblivious play-acting and actually see the child.
But it’s a momentary digression, a brief time-out in the all-consuming time-out that has become Rooster’s version of life. While he responds to his son, he forms no real bond with any other person.
Some of these camp groupies seem to be closer to Rooster than others, all of them hiding from life in his haze: the faithful likes of Tanya (Lyssie Garrison) and Davey (Eric Salas), the older Professor (Patrick Thornton) and especially one who goes by the moniker M (Jake Szczepaniak). Yet when push comes to shove, and it will, the game will prove to be just that, a fantastic episode ephemeral and immaterial.
Rooster is neither rock nor haven nor friend. He has no answers, he offers no shelter. Cox’s oddly visionary wanderer is at sea, as if in a lifeboat with other souls whose presence is lost on him and whose survival has no meaning to him: He beholds the broad expanse, life unarticulated. He bobs with the boat, and is.
- Performance location, dates and times: Details at TheatreinChicago.com
- Preview of Profiles Theatre’s complete 2015-16 season: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com