Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Jerusalem and Man in a Case

Also see Jeanie's review of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Heiress and The Smell of the Kill

An Intoxicating Production of Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem

Devon Simpson, Brian Dykstra and Riley Krull
Photo by Jessica Palopoli
Though the San Francisco Playhouse production of the epic Tony and Olivier Award winning Jerusalem is long (three hours, 15 minutes) and chaotic, especially the first act, I found it electrifying. It takes a long time to get to the heart of the play; you finally get the general idea in the second act.

Here is what takes place in one day near the village of Flintlock in Wiltshire County. It's St. George's Day and there is a country fair going on to welcome the coming of spring. Johnny "Rooster" Byron (Brian Dykstra) has been squatting on a prized piece of land on the English countryside for the past 27 years. He is a former motorcycle daredevil who did almost impossible things to please the public. Now he presides over a motley crew who love to smoke pot, inhale coke, and drink in late night bacchanals. You could call him part Falstaff, part Evil Knievel and part Henry V. He also sells drugs, not only to adults but to their children as well.

The nearby town fathers are finally going to evict Rooster from his paradise. In the opening scene, two over-zealous district officials have presented him with a Notice of Eviction. Our hero is not about to leave his mobile home, so he draws an eloquent line on the ground, and summons up giants and angels to defend his "Jerusalem" to the death. He is like Falstaff with his carnival banter and grand Shakespearean verse. It's a magnificent performance of misguided bravo.

The comedy-drama is instantaneously imaginative and robust, especially in the long first act. There is a lot going on in this play, which includes a lot of British terminology. (A glossary of British terms translated into American language is provided to help the audience.) You will see a pet tortoise and Morris dancing. You will hear a young girl named "Phaedra" (Julia Belanoff) at the beginning of acts one and two singing in a cool, brittle voice William Blake's "Jerusalem." Oh, and there is the depiction of a lot of smoking and drinking and carousing among Rooster's crew.

Bill English has assembled a large cast of extraordinary actors who have spot on British accents, thanks to dialect coaches Deborah Sussel and Jessica Berman. Brian Dykstra (Broadway's Lucky Guy with Tom Hanks) is outstanding as Rooster. He is flexible and muscular as Rooster spouts wonderful stories about his past life and the giants and faeries he has met in the nearby woods. You just can't help loving this "dirty old man."

Ian Scott McGregor gives a marvelous performance as the man-child and Rooster's mate, Ginger. Paris Hunter Paul (SF Playhouse Camelot) is compelling as Lee, the young man leaving his friends to live in Australia.

Maggie Mason gives a magnetic performance in the small role of Rooster's ex-wife, the "normal" person in this play. Devon Simpson and Riley Krull are splendid as clever, sensual underage girls, part of Rooster's crew. Julia Belanoff gives a charming performance as the disobedient Phaedra. Richard Louis James, returning to the stage after a three-year absence, gives a terrific almost Shakespearean performance as "The Professor." He has a voice reminiscent of the great Shakespearean actors like Sir Donald Moffat. Fifth grader Calum John gives a nice, convincing performance as Rooster's son.

Joe Estlack, Aaron Murphy, Christopher Reber, David Raymond, Joshua Schell, Courtney Welsh and Devon Simpson all give excellent performances as some of Rooster's pot smoking friends.

Bill English's striking staging is a model of strongly paced realism with room for the more keen passages that Rooster and The Professor speak. The director has also designed an awesome set with a full-size mobile home in the center of a forest. There is enough foliage surrounding the home to fix that ideal location, including six real trees planted on the stage.

Jerusalem plays through March 8th at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street (2nd floor of Kensington Park Hotel between Powell and Mason), San Francisco. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or visit Coming up next will be the world premiere of Lauren Gunderson's Bauer on March 18th.

A Enchanting Production of Man in a Case

Tymberly Canale, Mikhail Baryshnikov and
Aaron Mattocks

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
There is a lot going on in the multi-media avant garde production of Man in a Case, based on two short stories by Anton Chekhov, at the Roda Theatre of the Berkeley Repertory Company through February 16th. The intriguing 75-minute piece is an ensemble of renowned master artists, with legendary dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and the combined talents of the Obie award winning Big Dance Company. The production superbly blends story, dance, projections, music and sound design to charm the audience.

Two hunters trade comical stories on the best way to kill a turkey. Mikhail Baryshnikov enters to tell a crafty tale of shooting a big tom turkey in Florida. This witty little vignette starts the entertaining evening of dance and story.

Baryshnikov deposits his body onto the floor like a bug and then stands up in a long black Russian coat to start the Chekhov story "Man in a Case" about an uptight classics teacher and his courtship of a lighthearted new Ukrainian teacher (Tymberly Canale) which forces him to closely scrutinize his own inflexible nature. They meet at a party with Carly Simon's 1987 hit "Coming Around Again" playing in the background. The star-crossed courtship plays out in an enticing blend of dance and acting.

The second half, based on Chekhov's short story "About Love," has Baryshnikov impressively telling the tale of a man falling in love with another man's wife one day, as he and the woman (Tymberly Canale) slowly dance on stage with no words spoken. It is a stunning scene.

The projections by designer Jeff Larson are haunting. There are screens of all types, from large to small television monitors, which add to each of the stories. There are even snippets of words projected on these screen.

The supporting cast more than hold their own on the stage with Baryshnikov. Aaron Mattocks and Chris Giarmo as the two hunters are amusing telling of the killing of turkeys. They also vividly play supporting roles in the two Chekhov stories. Co-director Paul Lazar agreeably contributes in the acting of the ensemble. Tymberly Canale is charming playing the free-spirited teacher and married woman. Her dancing is sublime. Mikhail Baryshnikov is outstanding in both acting and dancing. His body movements are magnetic. He even flips backwards down a staircase with wonderful grace.

Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar of Big Dance Theatre have skillfully directed the production. Annie-B Parson choreographed the dance with unfussy grace and daintiness. Lighting by Jennifer Tipton perfect fills the stage with expressive light and shadow.

Man in a Case runs through Febuary 16th at the Berkeley Repertory Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets please call 510-647-2949 or visit at Also at the theatre is the world premiere of Marcus Gardley's The House That Will Not Stand now in previews with an opening on February 5th and running through March 16.

- Richard Connema

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