Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Zabrina Tipton

“Our father who aren’t in heaven,” Angel Cruz (Daveed Diggs) prays from his prison cell in the beginning of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train. He quickly realizes that he made a mistake and tries the prayer again only to make a different error. The other prisoners heckle Cruz, and the heckling is as funny as Angel’s mistakes so the audience gets plenty of laughs out of this struggle.

Indeed, it’s the comic side to this story which comes out most readily in the unique down and dirty conversations between prisoners and between prisoners and their lawyers or their guards that makes this show a lot more entertaining than you might expect from a prison play. Coupled with this is an outstanding cast including Carl Lumbly as Lucius Jenkins – a mass murderer who has found salvation in Jesus.

Lumbly is probably best known as Jennifer Garner’s costar in the TV show Alias. Also known for his performance in the Cagney and Lacey show and movies like How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Lumbly admits that: “Theater is my favorite thing to do… There are certain aspects of a good film or a good piece on television that share some of the joy that I get when I’m doing theater, but overall, theater has more built-in moments. I like all the steps. I like that you do it as a group, even though you each have an individual responsibility.”

Interestingly, it’s also an individual’s responsibility for his own actions that Lumbly’s character preaches the loudest. Angel, however, doesn’t want to listen. He feels justified in the crime he committed. He shot a very rich preacher in the ass because he felt the man had brainwashed his best friend into following this preacher’s dollar sign form of religion. The problem is that the preacher died of complications on the operating table, complications Angel is quick to blame the hospital and doctors for.

Angel’s public defender (Susi Damilano) encourages his shirking of his responsibility by asking him to lie a little on the witness stand, sure that the jury really wants to acquit him. But Lucius is battling for Angel’s soul.

“Faith is essential to life,” says director Bill English. “Yet there is so little of it in our hip modern world. We are not sure, we do not know. For many, the old faiths have lost their resonance.” But according to Lucius: “Faith is like a little blade of grass fights its way through the concrete tryin’ to get a drink of water.” English believes there is something eternal that “resonates in the battle between (Lucius) and a street-smart public defender for Angel Cruz’s soul: …it is the search for faith.”

In this search the journey is everything, and Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train takes us on that journey in a uniquely entertaining way. For tickets or more information call SF Playhouse at (415) 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org.

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