“Big” and “mythic” is how San Francisco Playhouse co-founder Bill English describes the troupe’s current show “Jerusalem,” a West Coast premiere.
“I saw it in London at the original production at the Royal Court Theatre and the next day, I went to the playwright’s agent’s office. Basically, four years later, we got it,” says English, the show’s director who admittedly is “not at the top of the pecking order of Bay Area theaters” and cannot procure the rights to every play he wants to produce.
Perhaps other local companies didn’t want a three-hour play with 15 characters, or one that called for a five-page glossary of terms for the actors to study, says English, exhilarated by Jez Butterworth’s acclaimed 2009 play (which earned lead actor Mark Rylance both Tony and Olivier awards).
Quick to point out that “Jerusalem” refers not to the Israeli city, but to William Blake’s epic poem celebrating the sacredness of the British land, English raves about the tale: “It’s one of the most powerful, spiritual plays I’ve ever read. It deals with a disappearing kind of human yearnings, and everybody in the story is magnificent. It has magnificent poetry, almost Shakespearean.”
Portrayed by Brian Dykstra at SF Playhouse, the main character, English says, “is kind of a bum who sells marijuana to kids and drinks constantly. He is also the summation of every sort of primal, Peter Pan character who lives in the woods and inspires the spirit of celebration of nature and of man’s connection to nature, and connection to the land that we all have sort of lost.”
A 25-foot travel trailer at the foundation of the production’s “very, very, very real” set, English says, leaves audiences feeling like they are seeing something both ancient and mythic.
English, who directed SF Playhouse’s lauded production of “My Fair Lady” in 2012, isn’t worried that patrons will have difficulty with the length of “Jerusalem,” or its plentiful, possibly unfamiliar, language.
“They’re just going to eat it up. The kids really love it, they get it. They’re listening to a lot of British movies, watching ‘Downton Abbey.’ It seems like British culture is popular now.”
IF YOU GO
Where: San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., second floor, S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. some Sundays; closes March 8
Tickets: $30 to $100