Riding the rails to purgatory
Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train
Sacramento, CA 95816
Angel and Lucius are captives, physically, mentally and emotionally. The two are fellow prisoners at Rikers Island who only have each other and their thoughts to keep them company; they are imprisoned by their crimes, their regrets, their pride, their pasts and their dubious futures. Lucius is a serial killer on death row who’s found God and wants to mentor young Angel, a 30-year-old bike messenger awaiting trial for shooting a cult figure that he determined was a false prophet.
And so begins the strange intertwined relationship between two souls in solitary confinement who meet an hour a day in the outdoor exercise yard.
Lucius (Adrian Roberts) and Angel (Eric Aviles) are the two main protagonists in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ searing, explosive drama Jesus Hopped the ’A’ Train, the latest production at Capital Stage. Three additional characters—two guards (Jeremy Oase and Rodrigo Breton) and Angel’s lawyer, Mary Jane (Amy Prosser)—help bring added perspectives to this powerful play as it layers volatility and fragility while examining cause, guilt, punishment, redemption and spirits that are both crushed and resurrected. The language and subject matter makes this theater piece unsettling and uncomfortable at times, but also thoroughly engrossing and unforgettable.
The dynamics are constantly shifting, from the give-and-take between the scared Angel and the seemingly wise Lucius, to dialogues between prisoners and guards, and lawyer and client. But the most powerful moments come in gripping soliloquies of Angel, Lucius and Mary Jane, where they expose their souls, their convictions, their passions, their doubts and their downfalls.
As dueling conversations and inner thoughts are shared, there is also the shift in the audience’s perspectives. More is revealed, and issues such as jailhouse conversions, personal transformations and ultimate responsibilities are grappled with.
The cast, most new to Capital Stage, leaves an indelible mark. Their performances are powerful, dangerous, loaded with expletives and not for the faint of heart. Aviles’ Angel actually breaks our heart from the opening scene as he frantically tries to pray: a lonely young man bathed in a lone spotlight, an actor who embodies a character so completely that you want to hug the fright out of him.
Roberts, as Lucius, portrays a man so full of charm and dichotomies that you don’t know whether to embrace him or arm yourself against him; it’s a frightfully commanding performance. Amy Prosser as Mary Jane also is most effective, rounding out a character that the playwright seems not quite sure how to really incorporate into the story.
Director Stephanie Gularte expertly choreographs the actors, pushing performances that not only feel like they’re going to explode, but actually do, followed by sweet, humorous moments that remind us of the humanity of each character. The staging proves once again why Capital Stage is such a theatrical force in town, with a stark set that comes alive with pulsating music, sirens, clangs and whistles against carefully chosen lighting moments that silhouette, spotlight and also plunge us into darkness. It’s a production staff that deserves recognition: Jonathan Williams (producing director and sound designer), Cathy Coupal (production manager), Steve Decker (set design), Glenn Fox (lighting design), Nancy Pipkin (costume design), Ed Lee (sound engineer) and Liz Estella (stage manager).
It’s a true collaborative between cast, crew and director that pays off with a truly captivating production.