Young Vic, London – until 30 March 2019
Originally directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and performed by LABrynth Theatre Company, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Olivier-nominated Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, returns to London in a striking revival directed by Kate Hewitt.
Set for the most part in Rikers prison, New York, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train is an intellectual and depth filled examination of justice, faith and redemption. Hewitt’s direction does the perfect job of revealing both the desperation and life found in Guirgis’ script, and brings it force in a sharp, to the point way.
The majority of the story is made up from pacy back and forth conversations between multi-murderer Lucius Jenkins (Oberon K. A. Adjepong) who is living his last few weeks before his death sentence, and young man, Angel Cruz (Ukweli Roach) who is battling a charge of first degree murder for shooting an evangelist who he believed was brain washing his friends. These conversations are intense and full of information. The pair debate their sentences, their actions in life and religion with an electricity that never ceases. Angel’s attorney Mary Jane (Dervla Kirwan) addresses Angel and the audience as she narrates the story and tells us her part in the trial.
The contradictions between the characters make lines unsettlingly blurred and it’s particularly ambiguous who’s side the audience should be on. Joplin Sibtain as Valdez acts at times as a moral compass, and through his intense anger and lack of care for the prisoners, reminds us that they are murderers; but at other times, his lack of sympathy purely highlights failures in the American prison system and we again feels for the incarcerated men.
This back and forth of the audience questioning morality is a testament to Guirgis’’ outstanding writing as well as Magda Willi’s long stage which brings these emotions to life in front of us. Glass frames move up and down the stage to show both physical and mental confinement and the clear glass allows us to look straight at the characters and feel as though we’re seeing aspects that should be hidden. This brightness and clarity leads to a desire for exploration.
Perhaps the character who embodies self-questioning the most, is Charlie (Matthew Douglas) who at the start is an ally to Lucius but returns at the end to give a particularly moving monologue about how his initial views of the man, were clouded by his final view of him at his execution.
Everything about this production makes you want to ask questions and certainly doesn’t leave you with an answer. From the impossibly loud scene transitions to the peaceful feeling when Mary Jane seems to be asking the audience for guidance, we are continually reminded of the balance between good and evil, and justice and repentance. Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train is riveting and engrossing from start to finish and spits energy in your mind, even after you’ve left the theatre.
photo credit: Johan Persson