Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at the Young Vic
Philosophical discussions about religion and morality in one of the US’s roughest prisons – New York’s Rikers Island – question concepts of good, evil and redemption in Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Adly Guirgis’s remarkable dark comedy Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, directed by Kate Hewitt. The play was first seen here in 2002, produced and directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman at the Donmar Warehouse.
Two convicted murderers in lockdown 23 hours a day, with one hour outside in chain link cages, engage in earnest conversation. Lucius (Oberon K A Adjepong), a schizophrenic ageing serial killer, is an alternately anxious and serene religious convert facing the death penalty, and Angel (Ukweli Roach) is a volatile, essentially upright young Puerto Rican God-disillusioned atheist who, while trying to rescue his friend from a cult, shot the group leader in the buttocks, the latter who died due to medical corruption. Angel is on trial for murder and his lawyer, Mary (Dervla Kirwan), is a well-meaning but classic whatever-it-takes-to-win defence attorney. Struggles with the prison warden, malicious bully Valdez (Joplin Sibtain), are offset by a kinder guard, D’Amico (Matthew Douglas), who befriends the two inmates.
With brilliant writing, the dialogue is intelligent, sharp and thought-provoking, while tempered with wit and humour. Characterisations are slightly cliché: the felon who finds God, the bad warden, the earnest lawyer, the friendly guard; Angel – who has committed a crime for a benevolent cause – is less so, however (though self-defence murder narratives abound). Perhaps these archetypes actually represent the human spectrum and, while simplistic, they sum up our variations in a primarily philosophical and pensive piece that asks us to question our key values.
Complementing the superb writing are Hewitt’s powerful direction and stunning performances, particularly by Adjepong with his spellbinding command of the stage. Roach is excellent as Angel, Kirwan’s determined attorney and Sibtain’s warped guard are impressive, and Douglas is an effective sympathetic counterpoint.
Magda Willi’s stage design using shifting glass and metal astutely conveys claustrophobia and a juxtaposition of freedom and entrapment, openness and closed-mindedness, clarity and obscurity. Sound (Peter Rice) is magnificent and emphatic with massive percussion and brass evoking raw emotion. Guy Hoare’s clever lighting – bright, stark, merciless – creates a mood of urgency.
Pondering questions of faith, the justice system, the nature of right and wrong, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train is disturbing, funny, intriguing, mind-shattering and profound, while also highly entertaining.
Photo: Johan Persson
Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train is at the Young Vic from 14th February until 6th April 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train here: