FACING OFF Cabrera and Crews.
Risking the longest anticlimax in theatrical history, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train starts right off with a powerful monologue that sums up the entire play. Fortunately, the first-rate production by Mixed Magic Theatre (through October 13), directed by Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, keeps us riveted as the complications of the opening declaration are explored.
Shouting the halting words is Angel Cruz (Rudy Cabrera), kneeling in supplication in his cell as other prison inmates yell at him to shut up. He is trying to dredge up the words to the Lord’s Prayer, coming up with half-remembered fragments. His mistakes are revealing. “Hollow thy name?” “Our father who aren’t in heaven — fuck!”
He is awaiting trial for attempted murder, though he insists he just wounded the man in the butt to teach him a lesson. The punctured Rev. Kim is a multi-millionaire cult leader who “stole” Angel’s lifelong friend. The resulting surgery complicates things badly, but not before Angel gets to deliver a hilarious tirade wondering how hard it can be to just remove everything that isn’t ass.
Sometimes Guirgis would rather make a point than make sense. The main implausibilities involve his court-appointed attorney, Mary Jane Hanrahan (Kate Ambrosini). After giving up on her angry client, she does an about-face and coaches him on how to lie to the jury. And it’s ridiculously unrealistic that she wouldn’t reveal a plea deal to her client rather than just argue him out of it. The playwright loves to give his characters colorful riffs, such as Hanrahan on her charismatic Irish father getting along nervously but beautifully at a fancy Upper East Side party until he stabs a bigot with a dessert fork.
Both Angel and Lucius Jenkins (Edward Crews) are in protective custody. Most of the scenes consist of their exchanges during their daily hour in the exercise yard. Cabrera plays Angel in all-stops-out fury most of the time, so the personality contrast with the calm, talkative Lucius is extreme and defining. Lucius is a psychopath who became known as “the Black Plague” after murdering a series of eight people, including a small boy. But, we are to believe, he found Jesus and considers himself forgiven. Much of his arguing with Angel involves accusing him of not taking responsibility for his situation, an amusing irony considering how long Lucius absolves himself of any guilt, under the celestial umbrella of forgiveness.
“Before hate, now love” is Lucius’s simple explanation. He refused to have his life story done by a cable channel, because he considers TV to be a social scourge, which indicates sincerity; likewise, his rapidly rattling off all the books of the Old Testament. Yet he might be scamming: his fight against extradition to death-penalty Florida is plenty motivation to make nice. Lucius is the more interesting person and gets overwhelmingly more good lines than Angel, and his anger-management characterization, warrants. “Be blazin’ or be freezin’, but don’t be damn cool!” he advises Angel.