Arts & Culture » Theater

Are We There Yet? Jesus Hopped the "A" Train is a real stem-winder



Late in Jesus Hopped the "A" Train, attorney Mary Jane Hanrahan (Elizabeth Graveman) is coaching Angel Cruz (Adam Flores) on how to answer the prosecutor's questions on the witness stand. Angel is on trial for shooting and killing Reverend Kim, a man Angel claims is a cult leader. Hanrahan's legal advice boils down to this useful tidbit: "Tell me a true lie."

Hanrahan knows Angel pulled the trigger — he has told her so. He has also told her he didn't intend to kill the man. The defense attorney lays out the dirty truth of how the court system works: You don't have to be not guilty (she never uses the word "innocent"); you just have to convince a jury to ignore the generalities of the legal system and focus on your specific extenuating circumstances. Make them see you as an individual, and you'll walk free.

Hanrahan steadily defuses her client's reservations about lying, and he grudgingly relents. The scene is the heart and the high point of the play.

But then Flores launches into a lengthy monologue about nearly getting killed on the train tracks when he was a kid, which leads to an overheated exposition about the possibility of divine intervention that sucks the helium right out of the scene's masterfully inflated dramatic balloon. The same process plays out again and again in Stephen Adly Guirgis' drama, which premiered off Broadway in 2000, as scene after scene begins promisingly, then devolves into jumbled soliloquies about Jesus, free will, Jesus, an anecdote from their past, Jesus, etc. Every single moment of dramatic tension eventually dissipates into one character or another holding forth about something that happened. And all the while, nothing happens ontage.

The sense that everything transpires elsewhere is only exacerbated by the static staging of this R-S Theatrics production, directed by Christina Rios. Actors hit their marks — and then stay there. Eventually the visual monotony of these unchanging tableaus creates a tension of its own, but it's a distracting one, as you wait for someone to step forward or touch another actor or end a scene somewhere other than where they began it.

And yet despite the frozen actors and discursive, digressive nature of the script, Jesus has its share of riveting moments. Terell W.J. Randall Sr. captivates as Lucius "Black Plague" Jenkins, a serial killer on death row who has found God and is trying to lead Angel to Him. Randall's monologue concerning his crimes is heartbreaking and chilling, as he partially absolves himself of guilt on the grounds that it was God's plan. B. Weller transforms sadistic prison guard Valdez from stock character into complex human being in a single speech, as he explains his rigid — you might even say Old Testament — sense of justice, and how it drives him to punish his charges for as long as he can because it's the least he can do for each criminal's victims.

Here's a true lie for you. As a play, R-S Theatrics' production of Jesus Hopped the "A" Train provides an inspiring source of dramatic monologues for your next audition.

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