Faith, morality and justice are all questioned in Stephen Adly Guirgis's prison drama
Eclipse Theatre Company, which devotes each of its entire seasons to a single playwright, opens its season Guirgis season with a moving revival of Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train. The 2000 drama set in the Rikers Island Correctional Facility tells of two prisoners, one who has found faith in the face of his impending execution, the other seeking faith while awaiting trial. The play explores the dualities of faith and morality against the gritty backdrop of a high-security prison.
The show is anchored by stellar performances from the actors playing the two central prisoners, Lucius (D’Wayne Taylor) and Angel (Johnathan Nieves). Taylor elegantly conveys the emotional depth of a caged man. We see him conceding to authority, struggling to restrain his instincts, and genuinely growing as a man. Nieves’s Angel is impassioned, conflicted, and woefully naïve. Both actors imbue their roles with a tragic sense of humanity that makes their crimes and punishments difficult to bear.
Though the performances are powerful and energetic, the nuances of the play’s quieter moments of the play are lost due to a poorly conceived set. A beam placed in between the cells of the set renders a large portion of the central playing space obstructed; Nieves has a number of quiet, reflective moments that are completely lost to the half the audience.
Eclipse’s season opener has its flaws, but the central questions and themes ring true. This journey through the concept of faith in all forms left me hopeful for the rest of Eclipse’s season.
Eclipse Theatre Company at the Athenaeum Theatre. By Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Anish Jethmalani. With Zach Bloomfield, Elizabeth Birnkrant, Christian Castro, Johnathan Nieves, D’Wayne Taylor. Running Time: 2hrs 15mins; one intermission.