Praxis Stage delivers sharp play on incarceration in ‘Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train’
The Praxis Stage production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” is certainly a timely choice. The show, playing at the Dorchester Arts Project, centers on Angel Cruz, a Puerto Rican man on trial for the murder of a cult-leading Korean minister. A devout serial killer, his unstable lawyer and two prison guards with radically different approaches to the job test Cruz’s faith and fate. Much like our current criminal justice system, the play exposes issues but doesn’t necessarily resolve them.
On the web
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From the start, the show sets the audience up to question the rigid moral lines of right and wrong. Danny Mourino’s Cruz is sympathetic and sharp as he explains that he shot the cult leader in an attempt to rescue his best friend from the cult, not with the intent to kill. Daniel Williams’s Lucius openly admits to murdering at least eight people, and enjoying it, but his eloquent speech and unwavering devotion doesn’t fit his crimes.
The show does bring to the forefront the flaws in the United States’ incarceration program. While the violent guard Valdez is brutally hostile to the prisoners, wishing to torture them, Daniel Boudreau’s character DiAmico bonds too much with Lucius, bringing him gifts and chatting like old friends.
Heaviness and humor
The unchained characters, Dawn Davis as public defender Mary Jane Hanrahan, and Harry Garo as Valdez, seem to be even more damaged than the prisoners. Hanrahan makes some on-the-nose points about the justice system, but has almost too little regard for the field she’s worked her whole life in. “The law is fallible, the truth will not set you free and in the court room lawful justice is an oxymoron,” she says.
“Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” perfectly balances humor and drama, keeping the heavy subject matter and tense script engaging. The show opens on Cruz attempting to pray in his jail cell. Clearly out of practice, he stumbles, “Our Father who art in heaven — Howard be thy name?” The faith theme, though dominant, isn’t overpowering. But as with the justice commentary, the show brings forth these themes without making a clear statement about them.
Though the text is too unfocused to be conclusive, the performance is highly watchable. The cast, particularly Mourino and Williams, performs impeccably, creating dynamic, layered characters. Lucius provides an eerie and at times logical voice, constantly begging the question, What is real? Cruz is torn between youth and adulthood, faith and nihilism and prison and freedom. And statement or no statement, we can’t wait to see which side he ends up on.