Tonika Todorova is an adventure architect and a passionate lover of the shared human experience.
Valdez (Christian Castro) and Lucius (D’Wayne Taylor) in Eclipse Theatre’s production of “Jesus Hopped the A Train” by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Scott Dray.
By Tonika Todorova
In their season opener of Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, Eclipse Theatre examines moral responsibility through the lenses of religion and the criminal justice system- two institutions occupied with salvation as much as flawed doctrine. And in this case, neither the Law nor God provides their constituents with a clear path to redemption.
The juxtaposition between characters proves for interesting relationship dynamics; from the likeable sociopath who has found God after killing eight people (D’Wayne Taylor) to the newbie to the criminal system whose loyalty to his friend and conflicts with religion rain trouble (Jonathan Nieves), named not coincidentally, Lucious and Angel, respectively. Add a dash of the uncompromising self-righteous violence of one guard (Christian Castro) and the a-bit-too-friendly compassion of another (Zach Bloomfield), sprinkle it with the self-conflicting public defendant who champions the protagonist’s case (Elizabeth Birnkrant), and this play ought to make some pretty compelling points. Except that under the direction of Anish Jethmalani, the approach to most of these points was anger, rendering this production rather lengthy under the barrage of shouting. And although the actors handled the street lingo effortlessly, most of the humor, passion, reflection, intimacy, atonement and importance in Stephen Adley Guirgis’ words was lost. A good opportunity to break away from the constant repetition of intense conflicts were monologues delivered to the audience resembling inmate support group confessionals, except that they, too, didn’t reach their potential, as it wasn’t clear who their intended audience was.
Yet, the faith and justice issues brought up in this production ground the message that nothing is clear cut and no circumstances are the same. Throw in mental illness, or race or personal convictions or any defining factor onto a situation and the big blanket of religion and law both fail to serve an individual, well, individually. And not to take away from Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–”, but when does a person get a chance to have a say in their own redemption?
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