Jerusalem (On Broadway)
Jez Butterworth's play has been on the theatre buzz list recently after having received rave reviews both on the West End and Broadway, not to mention having a stellar cast, including theatre deity Mark Rylance.
I HAD to go. When I saw $37.50 tickets for a Wednesday matinee through Playbill Club, I had no excuse NOT to. So I did. A couple of weeks ago. And I am still thinking about it.
I had a pretty visceral response to the play - the kind of response that allows me to understand the kind of energy people feel when they describe a deep religious experience (you know, the kind where your hair stands up on the back of your neck and you feel like the world is shifting underneath you and you become temporarily blind while simultaneously seeing more clearly than you ever have before.)
HOWEVER, I have been having trouble talking about the play in an intelligent/useful way and all of my efforts to try and describe my experience to other people have been more filled with noises that with words. After having several conversations with friends who also saw the show, it has become clear to me that there is something missing.
I think that missing ingredient is information.
Broadway is great for many reasons. There are also things about it that are so-so. But sometimes, it just completely misses the point. Providing their audiences with information about what they are about to see on stage is one of those things that the beloved Great White Way just really, royally sucks at.
I'm leafing through my playbill from the show right now and while there are some cutesy interviews with actors currently on Broadway that are useful in an E-Entertainment sort of way, but the only thing in the 52 page program that actually give specific information about the play itself is the brief director's note that explains the title of the play, but not a whole lot else.
Read this article in the Times that was written before Jerusalem opened on Broadway and you'll see that lack of information was already a concern with this particular production.
In April, Patrick Healy wrote, “Jerusalem,” in other words, is about very English things, yet the play may well resonate with American audiences. At least Mr. Rylance and his producers hope so, given that — Broadway’s substantial Anglophilia notwithstanding — a full appreciation of “Jerusalem” depends on understanding the socioeconomic trends that Mr. Kingsnorth laid out in “Real England.”
Okay, problem acknowledged. Time to come up with a solution, right?
Yes - the play is about England. And not the kind of England that we are used to seeing on TV but an England that may be unfamiliar to the average American Broadway audience member. Not only is the play about England now, but also swells with English history, mythology and a certain paganism that I at least do not have the vocabulary for.
Having grown up in places that carried a lot of English culture (and colonialism) in their history and having gone to schools that indulged Anglophilia, I felt that I could sense the weight and density of the production, as well as the specificity of all the directing and acting choices that were being made, but was not sure exactly what they all meant. Things in my body understood exactly what was happening on stage, but my brain couldn't quite keep up.
During intermission I paged desperately through my program, hoping to find some clue that would help me key in better to what I was watching. Not that I wasn't enjoying the show, or that it was completely passing me by... Actually, it was making me ravenous for MORE. I wanted to talk to the playwright, I wanted to talk to the director, I wanted the dramaturg's notes... Alas, all I found was a coupon for a churrascaria and a $5 bag of peanut m&ms.
I've heard some people say that Jerusalem should have been adapted for an American audience, but I disagree. One of the great things about theatre is that we get to learn things, right? We get to travel to another place and time, see a different perspective, be with people who think completely differently to the way we do, but just like school, sometimes you need a few extra tools to help you out. Henry V doesn't need to be adapted for an American audience because the history surrounding the play is already in our collective consciousness. I would like major theaters to start providing that opportunity for new (or obscure) work as well.
I mean, COME ON! Broadway, you can't expect everyone to cross the ocean without a boat. Most of us are going to drown. It's already hard enough to get people to the theatre as it is, why aren't we doing everything humanly possible to make sure that the audience has the necessary tools to enjoy (or at least understand) what they are watching?
Since I was
So here... I am no dramaturg but I figure some information is better than none. Whether you have already seen the show or plan on going, I hope reading some of these will add to your experience.
Read "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Watch an episode (or 10, it's really addicting) of the UK TV series "Skins." (It's on instant play on Netflix)
Read about Wiltshire, England (where the play is set. In addition to being home to Stonehenge, the locals are referred to as "moonrakers..."
Read about Moonrakers
I coud go on and on. There is SO much to discover in this play. Have you seen it? Any good information to add?
-- Sarah Wharton