By Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Angela Konrad. A Glass City Theatre production presented by Pacific Theatre. At Pacific Theatre on Friday, March 11. Continues until April 2
This production of Jesus Hopped the “A” Train contains some of the most exquisite acting you’re ever going to see.
Stephen Adly Guirgis’s script is both moving and flawed. In New York City’s Rikers Island prison, two guys spend the one hour a day that they’re not in solitary confinement in adjacent outdoor cages. Angel is there because he shot a Christian cult leader in the ass. Lucius Jenkins, also known as the Black Plague, has murdered at least eight people. He tells Angel, in graphic detail, how he tortured and mutilated an Ecuadoran boy. But Lucius has found Jesus.
Playwright Guirgis states his themes. “Do you really believe there’s a thing called God?” “We, as individual people, are responsible for the individual choices we make.” Is it okay to do a little wrong in order to achieve a great right? I don’t know about you, but I’ve got my positions on these things pretty much sorted out. There’s a whole bunch of foreshadowing, but not a lot of narrative progression in the script. Strangely, the playwright refers to Lucius’s psychosis, but he shows us only a soupí§on. And a major plot point involving Angel’s lawyer, Mary Jane, lacks credibility.
But the language charges ahead with the force of the title’s train. Lucius calls television a narcotic and says, “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Who Wants To Kiss My Narrow Black Ass?” And Guirgis has written fantastic roles and moments for actors. Almost unable to speak after emerging from solitary for the first time, Angel finally croaks out, “I can’t, I can’t sleep. I can’t, in there, do you?”
Robert Olguin plays Angel with the subtlety and authenticity of a gifted screen performer; not to get hyperbolic or anything, but watching him is a bit like watching Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. Olguin’s performance never shows off or explains; his character simply reacts in the ways he does because of who he is and what’s happening to him.
And Carl Kennedy’s Lucius is a mind-blower: witty, savvy, terrified, charming. As with Olguin’s Angel, Kennedy’s Lucius just does what he has to do, offering compassion to Angel in the form of a cigarette, submitting to the sadistic guard Valdez. And Kennedy’s bead on the character never wavers; the mind behind Kennedy’s steady eyes seems to belong to Lucius. And, even when Valdez has Lucius handcuffed, you can see the rage and frustration in his fingers. There’s deep joy here, too: Kennedy plays the script’s rhythms like a kid bouncing on a bed.
Olguin has recently moved here from Seattle. Welcome. Kennedy, also a Seattleite, is just here for the show. Stay, buddy, stay.
As written, Valdez is a bit of a cartoon, but actor Andrew McNee shades it in with gleeful menace. Kerri Norris’s Mary Jane is a persuasive combination of competence and disintegration. And Evan Frayne nails the smallest role in the play, a guard named D’Amico, providing some of the most moving moments of the evening.
Itai Erdal provides subtle lighting as well as a stunner of a minimalist set. The excellent, grinding sound design is by Joel Stephanson.
Director Angela Konrad is the woman who pulled it all together. And this production marks the mainstage debut of Glass City Theatre. Now there’s an entrance.