Where does your morality stand and what consequences of your life can you live with? Pulitzer-Prize-winning, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ (The Motherf**ker With a Hat, Between Riverside and Crazy) Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train, asks this and more. In a sense, this is a morality play, as every character here is facing a crisis of moral dilemma. The intense characterizations and riveting dialogue make Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train a roller coaster of a ride. Superbly acted, this revival now playing at the Signature Theatre is a must see.
Set in cages like wounded and feral animals, we meet Angel (Sean Carvajal), a 30-year-old bike messenger, who has shot the leader of a religious cult in the buttocks. Angel prays intensely in the middle of the night – botching up the Lord’s Prayer – and the inmates are none too thrilled. Enter his overworked public defender (Stephanie DiMaggio). Angel has been cited for attempted murder, but his defense is if he had meant to kill the preacher, he wouldn’t have shot him in the ass. Angel’s reasoning is pretty clear to anyone who has a friend or a child inducted into a cult. He had exhausted every way to save his brainwashed best friend, and this was a crime committed out of frustration. When the preacher, who suffered only a minor wound, dies of complications during surgery to remove the bullet, Angel is shockingly charged with first-degree murder. Angel hilariously rants about “medical malpractice”.
In the meantime, in a contained cell that allows access to the yard, Lucius (Edi Gathegi), a serial killer who has found God, is awaiting extradition to Florida. He has violently murdered eight people for basically no reason. Lucius has found an inner peace and his philosophical attitude has bonded him with his guard, Charlie (Erick Betancourt), who does him favors such as bring him Oreo’s. Charlie is fired for his special treatment and replaced by Valdez (Ricardo Chavira), a sadistic animal who is now in charge.
When Angel is charged with first-degree murder the two become housed together. Both have different views on the system, their fates, and God. It is in the searing second act that Lucius calmly and dispassionately describes his murders, believing the only reason he got caught was that he started to kill white people. Lucius claims he takes responsibility, but feels he should be allowed to live. He fierily accuses Angel in a series of ecclesiastical arias. Angel’s soul breaks under these moral tirades.
Both Carvajal and Gathegi excel in this verbal wordplay that is like watching a boxing match between heaven and hell.
Mark Brokaw directs this powerful and thought-provoking play with layered wit and depth.
Riccardo Hernandez’s stark set and Scott Zielinski’s dramatic lighting add to the intensity.
In a sense, we are all in a battle for our souls, and Mr. Guirgis’ play sheds some new light on this riveting subject. This is a must-see for anyone who loves terrific acting and commanding and forceful theatre.
Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train: Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd St. until Nov. 26th.