Taking a closer look at Madison theater
May 8, 2014
04:29 PM
Stage Write

Sam D. White Disappears into 'Jerusalem'

Sam D. White Disappears into 'Jerusalem'

PHOTO COURTESY OF STROLLERS THEATRE

"Rooster's the Green Man, the Dionysus of his group," says White. "He doesn't stop talking."

Sam D. White’s voice is a little hoarse and scratchy on the phone.

It’s not surprising, given that he’s spent the last several weeks wrapping it around the rough edges of a boisterous British tough guy who spends his time drinking and smoking in the woods. Or, more specifically, Johnny “Rooster” Byron, the larger-than-life star of Jez Butterworth’s hysterically complex and oh-so-British Jerusalem. White is font and center in Strollers Theatre’s production, set to open Friday, May 9, in the Bartell Theatre.

White first saw Jerusalem in 2011 at a Fringe Festival in New York, and immediately fell in love with it. Or, more specifically, with Rooster, one of the most intricate characters to ever strap on leather pants and a motocycle helmet.

“In a nutshell, this play is about freedom,” says White. “It’s about people trying to be who they are.”

Rooster’s certainly got that down. A loudmouthed bipolar alcoholic who’s living in a trailer in the woods outside Wilshire, Rooster holds court with the lost souls and outcasts who flock to watch him drink, smoke, swear and tell stories—partaking of his drug stash whenever possible, of course. But this pastoral, um, paradise is about to be lost—Rooster’s facing an eviction notice, dodging a thuggish abuser who wants to kick his ass, trying to connect with his estranged young son and somehow keep his scruffy band  of broken souls in line.

“Rooster’s the Green Man, the Dionysus of the group,” notes White. “The guy doesn’t stop talking.”  

White was drawn in part by the mysticism of the character, the power that he holds over the other characters and the ways he represents the essence of earthy, natural Britain. Butterworth’s play draws its name from the William Blake poem “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time,” which suggests the “Satanic mills” of the Industrial Age are encroaching on the natural beauty of England.

“It’s the biggest role I’ve ever done,” says White. “The complexity, the physicality, the dialect—I’m worried I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.”  White calls playing Rooster an amazing challenge for an American actor, describing the dialect as "dense and poetic, full of imagery, complex colloquialisms and unique phrasing." 

White even dyed his white hair brown for the role. His friends and family have taken note. “They say, ‘Whoa, dude’s serious about his work,’” laughs White.  

Jerusalem will be the last show White does before taking a summer mini-hiatus from the stage. He plans to return this fall to his alma mater, Edgewood College, where he’ll appear in a production of David Auburn’s Proof.

We’re guessing the dye-job will have washed out by then.  

Jerusalem runs May 9–31 at the Bartell Theatre. 

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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