Prison Drama Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train Asks Tough Questions
Stephen Adly Guirgis’s celebrated 2000 play Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train is a dark comedy drama set in New York’s Rikers Island prison. It asks tough questions not only about the American justice system but more universally about the nature of guilt, punishment, faith and redemption.
Awaiting trial for murdering a religious cult leader who has ‘kidnapped’ his best friend, the despairing Angel meets Lucius, a serial killer about to be transferred to Florida for execution. A born-again Christian, the remarkably upbeat Lucius’s belief in God’s forgiveness starts to have a positive effect on Angel.
Guirgis’s dialogue is razor sharp, zinging with expletives and often bitingly funny, while he raises important ethical problems about personal and social accountability.
But there are some serious credibility issues with character and plot: Lucius comes across as extraordinarily well-adjusted for a self-proclaimed ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ who has killed eight people, while it’s not clear if he actually feels remorse for what he has done or is just indulging in delusional escapism. And Angel’s penitent change of behaviour is not very convincing.
Director Kate Hewitt has employed traverse staging to good effect, with characters confronting each other on a narrow walkway with the audience close-up on each side. Set designer Magda Willi’s decision to use moving glass partitions rather than metal cages to separate the prisoners gives a sense of walls closing in but without the feeling of them being trapped like animals.
Oberon K. A. Adjepong is a charismatic physical presence as Lucius, while Ukweli Roach’s Angel is amusingly irreverent. Dervla Kirwan is Angel’s maverick lawyer who (rather implausibly) puts her job on the line, with the gleefully sadistic Joplin Sibtain taking over from the naively benevolent Matthew Douglas as prison guards with opposing views on rehabilitation.
Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, Young Vic, 66 The Cut, SE1 8LZ. Tickets £10–£40, until 30 March 2019.
Last Updated 22 February 2019