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One-Question Q & A: Jerusalem

Director Bill English talks crooks, revolution, and gentrification.

The cast of Jerusalem.

The cast of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, the British play about a small-time crook turned rebel folk hero trying to block a gentrification scheme, has it all: critical acclaim out the wazoo, every award under the sun, and a near-mythical protagonist. It’s also cripplingly difficult to stage and so steeped in British culture and slang terms that some critics believe an American audience couldn’t grasp it. Here, S.F. Playhouse’s artistic director, Bill English, defends his decision to take on the production. 

San Francisco: Why do you think this show will resonate with San Francisco? 
Bill English: When I first saw the show in 2009, I went to the playwright’s agent’s office the next day and said, “I want to get in line to do this in San Francisco.” San Francisco has a rebel-without-a-clue culture, and the message of the play is that people who defy authority keep us from falling into suburbanity. It's gloriously anti-establishment.

Brian Dykstra, the leading man, is quite a bombastic counterculture type with an anti-establishment streak, but he’s done a lot of Shakespeare in the Park and was on Broadway with Tom Hanks, so he can handle this prose while still playing a tough redneck. As for the language barriers, we’re doing a workshop two weeks before rehearsals just to start the actors on the dialect, and we’ve hired one of the finest dialect coaches in the country. We have a glossary of over 200 terms to learn, and we’ll probably put some in the program for the audience. Some say that Americans won’t get it, but I say we’re the first American company with the cojones for it.

 

JAN. 25–MARCH 8, S.F. PLAYHOUSE

Originally published in the January issue of San Francisco 

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