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Art & About: 'Jesus Hopped the A Train'

Personal realities creates cozy facade

By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor

071818GuirgisIn the dramatic opening scene of the Actors' Warehouse current production of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright's Stephen Adly Guirgis's play Jesus Hopped the A Train a prison inmate is in jail on his knees desperately trying to get the words right as he loudly recites the Lord's prayer.  This compelling, thought provoking story of Alternative realities, with an eye opening final scene, will keep your interest nail directly to the Actor's warehouse stage.

Hold onto to that image of this telling scene as this play unfolds into a hopeless reality of stark lives, the absence of hope and dreams, life in jail.

This wasn't a contest of wills between a senior prisoner sentenced to life for killing eight people and a newly incarcerated youth.

Nor was it the wise, sage like convicted Kung Fu Master teaching the young grasshopper the ways of existing in a world of concrete floors, iron bars, and zero privacy.

It was a confrontation of two souls with completely different interpretations who, what, why them, and where are going.

 

071818AWpraying

Angel's (Diego Bermudez), world has come unraveled when he believes his life long best friend has been indoctrinated into a cult like religion modeled after the Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Angel's plan was to rescue his best friend he believes the cult had stolen and brainwashed. In the ensuing fracas Angel shot the religious leader putting Angel in jail awaiting his trial.

071818AWdirectorEnters Lucius (Kevin Mack) the easy going 'lifer' criminal found guilty for murdering eight people and he is waiting to be returned to Florida to face the penalty of death.

'A Train' creates a vivid image of life in prison and necessity of finding your space among other prisoners, the stark reality of existing in a world indifferent to personal sensibilities. Social discourse is the preferred avenue daily existence as Lucius and angel meet daily on the prison roof in their one hour respite from confinement in their cells.

As would have it the age difference of the prisoner creates many juxtapositions in almost all of their conversations. This thoughtful playwright uses this opportunity instill abstract feelings pain, sorrow, anger, guilt in what could have become lifeless characters.

But for the unaware the story could have been about the horrors of jail time and individuals creating coping mechanisms to exist in a foreign world of bare, stark realities.

071818AWvaldezValdez (Wilfredo Gonzalez), is certainly the plays reality check. Uncaring, numb to the daily ministrations of prisoners, Valdez makes the best of his job by taking opportunities that arise where he can demonstrate he is in fact in a better place than Angel, or Lucius.

An early scene has Valdez intimidating Lucius leaving chill bumps on me understanding the adage, the only difference between the prisoners and the prison guards are the uniforms.

Public Defender Mary Jane (Olga Petrovic), is equally enmeshed in her existence as Angel's lawyer. Seeing many of her fathers attribute in Angel she becomes enamored with the prisoner eager top assist in his efforts release form jail.

071818AWmaryJMs. Petrovic did an excellent job of moving this story forward with several surprising plot twists in the second scene. 

I found myself puling for Mary Jane to help Angel 'beat a bad wrap,' hoping a good end for Lucius. Much like the prisoners Mary Jane appears to have resigned herself to her life among the prison walls with very few positive, hopeful outcomes.

Speaking of realities Director Kevin Mack did a masterful job of holding the theater hall in suspense of the next suspenseful action on the stage. It was a reality check of Me. Mack as just before show time he found out the actor playing Lucius was going to be unavailable until the final week of the show. As any director would do he chose to become the stand-in Lucius.

MUCH APPLAUSE Mr. Mack in a moving, compelling performance of a man lost in his own reality, waiting for redemption?

Like Otis on the Andy of Mayberry show I have spent a night, or two in the drunk tank. Zach Herrings jail setting design, and Chris Takashima's costumes evoked eery feelings of confined angst and empathy.

 

071818AWangel600

'A TRAIN' is a thought provoking show of chilling, character personality portraits describing how man, people, humans do the best they can within their own jail, er, ugh, reality.

That's what jail is.

And for these four 'A TRAIN' characters creating an alternate universe in a daily existence of hopeless reality becomes mentally mandatory.  I found a link that says coping mechanisms, "are used to manage an external situation that is creating problems for an individual. Defense mechanisms can change a person's internal psychological state."

That describes life in prison to a lock and key.

The Actors' Warehouse production of Jesus Hopped the A Train continues through July 29 on various days, times. FOLLOW THIS LINK for more information.

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