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Emergency, spirituality and coming of age are at the heart of this tale. A serial killer claims he is redeemed. One jailor believes him, the next one punishes him. A young man prays for a miracle to save him from a life sentence but can’t understand if he is guilty of a crime or not. His lawyer is equally confused. What is right shifts according to each character’s take on life until eventually a truth emerges. It is this journey that Pulitzer prize winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis takes us on in ‘Jesus Hopped the A train’. In its first run in 2001 with the New York based LAByrinth Theatre Company, the play won numerous awards including the Edinburgh Fringe First and was directed by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
This revival at the Young Vic directed by Kate Hewitt plunges us in the hell of violence and despair that is a modern day prison. Bright lights flood the stage, sudden clanging of metal doors give the tempo to this fast-paced play. The story begins with Angel Cruz, played by ‘Humans’ Ukweli Roach trying to remember the words to a prayer, like a child in Catholic school. Cruz is grown-up however and therein lies his problem. Roach is compelling as this man who still believes in a romantic, boyish code of behaviour. He’s shot a corrupt reverend, a ‘false prophet’ in the ‘ass’ in an effort to save his best friend from his sect, and finds himself lost in prison. He starts talking to a fellow inmate, brilliant psychopath Lucius Jenkins, a character so complex and memorable that most actors who took on his role since he came to life in 2001 became stars. Oberon K.A. Adjepong is no exception. Here is a man who emanates goodness, who seeks the sun and open air, who is able to provide comfort and care, to his first jailer Charlie (Matthew Douglas) and then to Angel Cruz and yet cannot deny his murderous past, he goes so far as to describe unapologetically his torture and killing of a child. Adly Guirgis has created in Lucius a modern living incarnation of the apostle Paul writing to Timothy. A man convincingly redeemed by the grace of God.
What is the condition of this redemption? The sadistic jailer Valdez (Joplin Sibtain with a wonderful New York working man’s accent) believes that when we ‘discard’ precious things, they are ‘lost forever’. Cruz’s lawyer (Dervla Kirwan) can’t help sympathising with Cruz’s irrational but so justifiable crime. Lucius knows. And when Lucius finally gets young Cruz to understand the meaning of agency and personal responsibility, we know we are heading for trouble. Yet ‘Jesus Hopped the A Train’ ends on a good note. Cruz is praying again. This time with the depth and serenity of a grown man.
Jesus Hopped the A Train continues at the Young Vic till 30th March