A Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark

"Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train"

by Stephen Adly Guirgiss
Directed by Summer L. Williams

Set & Lighting Designed by Mark VanDerzee
Production Manager Shawn LaCount
Original Sound Design by Norman Magnusun
Assistant Sound Designer Ben Williamson
Assistant Stage Manager Sonia Jaffe
Stage Manager Matthew Breton

Angel Cruz........................Michael Premo
Lucius Jenkins...................Vincent Siders
Mary Jane Hanrahan..............Sarah Shampnois
Valdez...............................Mason Sand
Charlie D'Amico....................Richard Arum

Company One has climbed out on just about the highest, proudest, yet most dangerous limb of the Boston theatrical tree: they consistently put their passionate energies into provocative, creative plays that have biting relevence to current affairs in America --- and then wonder why there are so many seats Empty in the audience. I hope Stephen Adly Guirgis' "Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train" has found its audience; yet I fear that once again, in a metaphor that has always seemed apt, Company One has "dropped rose-petals into the Grand Canyon and waited for the echo."
I often say "Stop reading this irrelevant review and Go See The Play NOW!" and I do again. And here I can offer one incentive: if you saw a very good play called "Coyote on A Fence" you owe it to yourself to see "Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train" to compare the two. I will go into the latter play in detail, so --- After You See It --- come back and compare your experience with my review.


Mark VanDerzee, Company One's Set & Lighting Designer, has provided this movie-like script with a set of square blocks spread across the playing-area --- in a sense imitating a kind of blockiness in the play. To the right and the center are two chain-link enclosed isolating exercize-areas where, for a couple hours a week, two very different admitted murdererswork out both their physical and their psychological conflicts. To the far left is a space that offers a public defender a chance to confer privately with one of those defendants. Two very different guards, and the lawyer, prowl about outside the fences and occasionally sidle into the narrow walkway between set and audience to deliver explanatory monologues.

In the first scene, Michael Primo as Puerto Rican Angel Cruz tries to mumble out The Lord's Prayer to an angry chorus of "Shut the fuck up!" from other cells (and if that phrase offends you here, the very realistic profanity sprinkled liberally throughout the play will do the same). Oddly enough, this is a clear, though enigmatic statement of the play's central conflict.

The next two scenes look like they merely define "good cop, bad cop" --- tall, self-contained Vincent Siders, as Lucius Jenkins, a gay dope-addicted Black serial-killer, first does a glibly-articulate con-job on Richard Arum playing Charlie D'Amico, a co-opted White guard trying to get along; then he is insulted and harrassed by Mason Sand as Valdez, a sadistic Hispanic who gets D'Amico fired for fraternizing. Both scenes imply realities of prison life while dropping details about Lucius' story and character. He is a densely compacted psychopath convinced that his religious conversion will save him from extradition to a Florida death chamber; the eight men he murdered are not important.

Then Sarah Champnois enters the picture as Mary Jane Hanrahan, a self-confessed damn good defense attourney somehow drawn to the honesty of Angel Cruz' admission that he shot a Reverend Kim (read Sun Yung Moon) in the ass because he had converted Angel's best to what he believes is a scam --- only to have the Rev die of complications. A lawyer good enough to get defendants she knows are guilty off --- only to be re-assigned to defend the same guys weeks later on new offenses --- decides to help this kid who sincerely insists he meant to hurt and not to kill, even if it means teaching him to lie on the witness stand.

Okay, that's a nutshell-description of the ambience and the action here. The play evolves into a series of shouting-match conversations (some of them glumly silent) between Angel ("There is no God!") and Lucius ("You'll see the light I have one day.") over God, guilt, and redemption, with the other three circling the action as chorus, often stepping out of the action for monologues that either explain themselves, or describe incidents happening off-stage.

When I saw it open last week, the show was still rough, and it seemed that Vincent Siders won points mostly on his acting expertise while Michael Premo had yet to project both his youthful ignorance and his hollow defensive stance. But this is a solidly committed company that I believe will continue to dig deeply into this major work of theater to find more and more nuance, more and more meaningful silences, more subtle underlinings and emphases. You probably saw a better play than I and the about a dozen others did last Thursday.

You DID go see it, didn't you? Didn't You??


"Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train" (11 July - 19 August)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide