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'Jerusalem' shakes foundations of San Francisco Playhouse

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Never known to shy away from the adventurous or the extraordinary, Bill English and Susi Damilano (Directors of the San Francisco Playhouse) throw caution to the winds with their latest production, Jerusalem - Jez Butterworth’s highly unusual Tony and Olivier award-winning play which is currently enjoying its West Coast premiere.

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The play is set in Wiltshire, south-west England, not far from the ancient Druid ruins of Stonehenge, a legendary place of pagan worship, and symbol of mystery and magic, where the summer solstice is celebrated by thousands of revellers each year.

Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron lives in a dilapidated caravan in a forest which has been inhabited by his forebears for what he claims are generations. This patch of forest is his Jerusalem, his stronghold, his stand against the bureaucracy of the local council who have the forest earmarked for further development of the urban sprawl which is edging ever closer.

To make matter worse in the eyes of the authorities, Johnny’s Jerusalem is a magnet for a motley assortment of disaffected young locals, who flock to his patch to lose themselves in all-night drink- and drug-fuelled parties. Everybody, it seems, wants a piece of Johnny - his young son wants him to take him to the fair, his ‘mates’ want him for the drugs and drink which are freely available - and the council want him for an entirely different reason - to have him evicted.

Johnny’s not a good influence on the young people, to be sure, but he justifies his attraction for them in the way that he justifies everything he does - with a specious, but curiously credible, logic in which he believes implicitly - insisting that these youngsters are better off with him than in their own homes.

Initially coming across a figure of loathing, but with a personality which grows ever more appealing as the action progresses, Johnny is without doubt a force with which to be reckoned.

Both funny and tragic, Jerusalem has both critics and audiences agog - defying anyone who sees it to walk away without opinion or comment.

The Guardian describes it as “one of the best dramas of the 21st century”. The Mail on Sunday refers to it as “Jez Butterworth’s wildly original hymn to eccentricity..... If you see nothing else this year, see this richly rewarding and resonant play.”

The Sunday Times calls it "... one of the best dramas of the new century ...... An extraordinary moment in British drama.” The New York Times refers to it as “..... the magnificent play by Jez Butterworth”, and Whatsonstage.com sums it up with typical British humor: “I think it's time to sell granny to get a ticket.”

Jerusalem is at the San Francisco Playhouse until March 8. For tickets, call 415 677 9695 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org

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