If Lucius has murdered eight people is he eight times more damned than Angel, who has killed only one?
Lucius is a psychopath who has killed eight people at random, and without remorse, because he enjoyed it, but he has turned to The Lord and prays a lot and is convinced he has been forgiven. He explains away his sins with a vocabulary that would do credit to a philosophy professor. “You’ve got to inspect yourself so you can respect yourself,” he says.
Angel is a young tough whose vocabulary consists mainly of expletives. He is passionate and angry. The man he killed was a preacher who was living high at the expense of his parishioners, and Angel shot him, relatively harmlessly, in the rear end. But the man died anyway—of a heart attack.
This is the premise of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ gripping play Jesus Hopped the A Train, which recently had its Los Angeles premiere at the Lyric Theater.
The two men are in jail, each in solitary confinement, and meet each day during their mandated hour of “exercise and fresh air,” but the only thing they exercise is their mouths. Lucius talks incessantly about Jesus and forgiveness; Angel notes, “the Bible ain’t a autobiography.”
The two, Lucius (Jacques C. Smith) and Angel (Victor Anthony) are two extraordinarily fine actors who maintain their emotional energy through long sessions of existential deliberation. The writing is superb and the direction, by Ashley Teague, is surprisingly compelling in what might, in other hands, be a rather static production.
The set is a bare stage with single wire fence panels hung in various configurations to represent prison cages, and from time to time a table is added in a well-lit corner where Angel’s court-appointed lawyer interviews her client. Kathryn Taylor plays the lawyer with intensity and panache, jeopardizing her own career in her effort to help Angel.
Equally engaging are Mel Hampton and Justin Huen playing the “good cop-bad cop” prison guards. Hampton is an easy-going, good- natured man, but Huen is a vicious, sadistic tormenter who gives the impression that under different circumstances he might have wound up in jail as a prisoner himself rather than a guard.
Rounding out the ensemble is Jen Schwartz, who adds just the right amount of percussion to underscore the drama.
Jesus Hopped the A Train is produced by the Collective Studio: Los Angeles, whose plays raise money to help provide services and housing to the homeless, veterans, and the formerly incarcerated.
Jesus Hopped the A Train ran at the Lyric Theater, 520 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 through August 25th.