Danny Solomon as Angel Cruz in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train

Shocking, powerful and darkly funny, JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN is a dark comedy about the contradictory nature of faith

Jake Murray makes a welcome return to his hometown of Manchester to direct the Northern Premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN.

Set in America in 1998, JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN tells the story of 30-year-old bike messenger Angel Cruz who is awaiting trial for the shooting of a Reverend Kim, the leader of a religious cult. Whilst inside the notorious Riker Island prison, Angel is befriended by charismatic and psychopathic serial killer Lucius Jenkins. Lucius has found God in prison and has been born again but will one man’s redemption lead to another’s damnation?

Shocking, powerful and darkly funny, JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN is a dark comedy about the contradictory nature of faith. As Angel and Lucius await their fate, the two prisoners confide and confront each other about their different perspectives on life, morality, hope and redemption. It is this moral argument that forms the heart of the play with writer Guirgis not only raising questions about guilt and atonement but also playing with our sense of loyalty.

Alastair Gillies as Valdez and Faz Singhateh as Lucius Jenkins in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train

Calm, charismatic and witty, Faz Singhateh’s Lucius soon wins us over as he shares cigarettes with Angel, warns about the Monday soup and recites the names of the books of the Old Testament backwards. Danny Solomon’s Angel, on the other hand, is confused, emotional and acquires the nickname of Droopy Dog. It is here that we have trouble deciding how to invest our emotions, with Guirgis cleverly playing on this to both shock and shatter us, particularly in the second act when Lucius calmly and dispassionately describes his murders.

Much of the play’s power lies in the superb lead performances of Solomon and Singhateh who both bring power and emotion to their contrasting roles. The supporting cast is equally strong, particularly Alastair Gillies as sadistic guard prison guard Valdez.

Yet, while Guirgis has crafted a raw and powerful play, his overreliance on expository monologues and long passages make this a dialogue-heavy piece and this – along with its explosive profane dialogue and disturbing subject matter – at times, make it a difficult watch.

Whilst insightful, Mary Jane Hanrahan’s (Angel’s lawyer played by the capable Alice Bryony Frankham) reflections on the case, also have a tendency to interrupt the action and dissipate the tension.

That said, this is a pulsating drama by a promising new playwright which goes to the heart of the big questions about morality, life, hope and redemption in the darkest of settings.

3.5 out of 5 stars

JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN runs at HOME, Manchester until 19 May 2018.