Faith, Drugs, Sin, Vulgarity and a Side of Ultra Violence

Inevitably, at some point in life the weight of a decision made by a person you love will paralyze you. The wound will run deep and the accompanying disorientation will debilitate your faculties. The realization is always brutal, the person you thought you knew is not who they seemed. Even for the most resilient the healing process for betrayal is slow and for each of us is its own unique challenge.

In Stephen Adly Guirgis' “Jesus Hopped The A Train” to be crippled by pain is preferable to being fueled by hatred or fear. Unfortunately, to convey this message most of the characters are flat and stereotypical. The best example being Lucius Jenkins, a drug addict and violent schizophrenic black man who was abused as a child and found God while waiting on death row. Jenkins is the embodiment of white America's irrational fear of the African American male. Even the main character, Angel Cruz, is familiar; a poor, uneducated hot tempered Puerto Rican immigrant. Cruz meets Jenkins in prison while awaiting trial for shooting a cult religious telemarketer-priest he blames for seducing and stealing his best friend.

Despite the familiarity of the characters the acting is anything but poor. In fact it's just the opposite. At times Edwin Lee Gibson's Jenkins is your best friend, someone who's there with a cigarette to pick you up when you're down. While at other times he is seething, furious and, luckily, locked inside of a cage. Though regardless of what role he is playing Gibson's acting is stellar.

Luckily prison is not luxurious. For Barebones Productions minimalist set the New Hazlett Theater's plain brick walls lend themselves perfectly to the three cages where the majority of the play takes place. Made of a framework of metal piping and wrapped in fencing the cages are designed based on the small outdoor areas death row and protective custody inmates are provided for their mandatory hour of fresh air, daylight and exercise. While the set looks convincing and true to life at times the audience can catch it limiting the actors. Valdez, for example, is the sadistic and abusive prison guard who beats inmates, but even from the back row he is obviously holding back when throwing them against the flimsy cage walls lest the set fall over and literally cause a prison break.

In fact, the production is so nominal that it has no soundtrack and made little use of the stage's lighting. For a story that is set inside of a prison it makes perfect sense. Aside from when Angel would meet with Mary Jane, his public defender played by Elena Passarello, and the occasional monologues to fill in background story the lighting remained the same. “Jesus Hopped The A Train” is anything but overwhelming. In fact, if there were a soundtrack, or the set were more expensive or other aesthetics increased it would only take away from the play. The real value is in the audience ability to empathize with the characters and understand their flaws. To that end this work is a great success and an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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