In "Jerusalem," Jez Butterworth's Tony and Olivier winning play, Brian Dykstra enjoys occupying the role of Johnny "Rooster" Byron, a former motorcycle daredevil, now living in a falling apart mobile home in the woods of England, where he's energetically drinking, taking drugs, telling stories to friends and hangers on, and resisting efforts by county officials who want to evict him.
"It's just such a big bite," Dykstra said. "The other actors are just delicious, and I enjoy playing with them, and the play itself is so mysterious and magical and then not, so that's always fun."
Dykstra, whose roles include Lord Capulet in "Romeo & Juliet" and the artist Mark Rothko in "Red," (along with appearing with Tom Hanks in "Lucky Guy" on Broadway), appreciates the audience members' willingness to go along wherever the three-hour play takes them.
"It's a contract we write when we go to the theater," he said. "We suspend disbelief."
Dykstra loved "Jerusalem" when he saw it in New York several years ago.
"I had a ball," he said. "I wasn't sure what the plot was, and I didn't mind. He allows these people to live full lives. I appreciate the anti-hero, like in Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, but if they died in a fire, would we care? This guy has more heart than most anti-heroes."
That's why audiences are drawn to Rooster in spite of his propensity to, say, give drugs and alcohol to (mostly) young people, Dystra thinks Rooster's lack of conformity makes him compelling.
"He always fights the best way he knows how," he said. "We have all this technology that removes us from spiritual things, and here's a guy who lives in the woods. There's something charming to us about that."
SF Playhouse Artistic Director Bill English is brave to take on the big, messy play, in spite of its awards and glowing reviews, Dykstra says.
"Plays from Britain with casts larger than six don't usually get done," he said. "We're the first regional production in America. In certain parts of the country, there's no way. I mean, he sells drugs to kids. That's it - you're done. It's a tough play. But Bill saw it and lobbied for it and waited three years to get it."
"Jerusalem" is at the SF Playhouse (450 Post), through March 8 with performances Tuesday through Sunday. Tickets are $20 to $100. For more information, please call 677-9596 or order tickets online.