Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train
Reviewed – 20 February 2019
“the brilliance of this production is that the answers don’t just come from the words; every aspect and element of the show feels relevant and important”
Kate Hewitt’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ ‘Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train’ is bold and philosophical, with moving performances and genius staging that elevates this show to exciting heights.
Angel Cruz (played with tender fierceness by Ukweli Roach) has wound up in jail, accused of attempted murder after shooting a cult leader called Reverend Kim. Alongside the threatening watch of prison officer Valdez (Joplin Sibtain), and the guidance of his lawyer Mary Jane Hanrahan (Dervla Kirwan), Angel strikes up a complex relationship with serial killer, and fellow prisoner Lucius Jenkins (Oberon K.A. Adjepong) – a relationship built on debate and argument surrounding the nature of good, evil and, indeed, God.
The opening line of Guirgis’ play sets the tone, as Angel prays, “Our Father, who art in heaven – Howard be thy name.” The moment is witty and heart wrenching in equal measure as Angel desperately tries to remember the correct words. The play continues in this vein. The dialogue is an absolute powerhouse and the real force behind this work; it’s clever, snappy, and fast paced, becoming so beautifully intricate in the sounds and nuances that are created. The actors really let themselves fly as they attack their dialogue and rattle off their monologues, keeping the performance exciting and engaging. In one particularly impressive monologue, Adjepong’s Lucius exercises whilst addressing his religious beliefs; the actor’s energy doesn’t falter once as he performs countless press ups, squats and on the spot sprints all the while delivering his speech. These scenes are separated by blackouts and a score of dramatic drum beats that sound like gunfire – they are thrilling and tense and help support the tone of the piece.
The staging, too, keeps the show feeling fresh, exploiting both movement and stillness to full effect. The auditorium is in the round; the stage is created as a strip cutting through the audience, with glass doors sliding along it. The simple fluidity of this design (Magda Willi) introduces an interesting dichotomy to the show that reflects the inherent sentiment of the play. On the one hand, it creates a sense of openness and, ironically, freedom, whilst on the other hand it creates an inescapable claustrophobia. The transparent glass doors evince our all-seeing nature whilst at the same time producing the actors own reflections in a way that reminds us of their entrapment. They can’t escape prison; they can’t escape themselves.
The play implores us to question humanity and freedom, good and evil, religion and atheism. We are drawn to the charming, God-fearing, comical Lucius despite his psychopathic nature and are left to wonder how we assess our morality and whether we can ever truly find redemption. Whilst Guirgis’ script is truly wonderful, the brilliance of this production is that the answers don’t just come from the words; every aspect and element of the show feels relevant and important. Overall, this is a really well thought out, fantastic piece of theatre.
Reviewed by Tobias Graham
Photography by Johan Persson
Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train
Young Vic until 30th March
Previously reviewed at this venue: