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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Theater Review: Actors stumble, script could use editing

It is always a risk doing a community theatre piece that is distinctly foreign. The script of “Jerusalem” has Englishness coming out its ears. It attempts to evoke every Celtic, Old World rumble and smash it together into one big-fish-story-telling magical con man.

His name is Johnny “Rooster” Byron. And if nothing else, it is a hell of a name.

For three long acts, Rooster Byron tells stories and does drugs. There is a group of more-or-less endearing losers with questionable accents who listen to these stories.

There is an attempt at characterization and plot, but it never quite gets there. There are suggestions of events and relationships, but nothing really ever comes of them.

The key descriptor of the Vortex’s production of “Jerusalem” is “inconsistent.”

It is quite clear what the script is trying to do. Drugs are cool and funny. Youth is something largely wasted but remembered, and history repeats itself. It judges harshly, but also romanticizes. And none does it romanticize more than Rooster Byron himself.

The script likes Rooster very much, and hopes you, the audience, will like him very much too. His character is essentially a mouthpiece for creative tall tales in the form of monologues, but you never really know anything about the man other than that he is big and brash and likes to speak loudly. He exists as a contradiction, a charismatic reprobate past his prime, claiming mystic origins.

Charles Fisher has the difficult task of shouldering the cult of personality that is Rooster. His performance is unfortunately erratic. Often compelling, but sometimes lacking, Fisher delivers his booming monologues with gusto, if not total control.

Most of the performances are passable, though largely puzzling and clumsy.

Amy Bourque, as Pea, and Katie Farmin, as Tanya, play well enough as middling druggie skanks, but emote and react far too much when other actors are speaking.

Ed Chavez (Lee) seems flustered by his part, giggling awkwardly and looking like he was invited to the wrong party.

Aaron Worley (Wesley) sticks out like a sore thumb, partly because of his far-too-white costume covered in party streamers and his casting as a character intended to be far older than he is, but he also clearly struggles with his accent.

Eliot Stenzel, too, seems to have trouble with his accent, appearing to bluster briefly as Troy, a former deadbeat, pointing vaguely toward the direction of the plot before leaving.

And what exactly is the character of the Professor supposed to be? Colin Morgan performs admirably, but the character is completely baffling. An insane, but articulately posh homeless man? Nothing about him really ever makes sense.

Mark Hisler and Micah McCoy save the day though. Their accents are stellar, their characters clear and engrossing, becoming different people entirely.

Colleen McClure, has a small part, but exists as an extreme high mark for the show. She is not acting: She is simply a person. And it is marvelous.

But it’s the third act that screeches to a halt. The momentum and energy is gone, and is instead replaced with each character getting his or her last words, which leads to nothing at all. When the plot finally gets back to the evitable and predictable climaxes, much of the pacing loses out to a thundering, if not ambiguous finale.

“Jerusalem” arouses some striking poetry and sensuality, but doesn’t take the time to filter or edit itself. So maybe the hedonism is half the fun.

Jerusalem
by Jez Butterworth
Directed by Marty Epstein
The Vortex Theatre
2004 1/2 Central Ave. SE
Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through March 2
$18 General/$12 Students
For more information, call 247-8600 or visit vortexabq.org