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      Jesus Hopped the "A" Train
    A hip "Hopped"

    A fast-talking street kid in Rikers Island is caught behind his good lawyer who wants him to do wrong and his bad cellmate who wants him to do right, in the powerfully acted "Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train."


    Angel Cruz isn't sure why he's even in jail after shooting a reverend. As he explains to his lawyer, "All I did was shoot him in the ass. What the hell is attempted murder about that?"

    But jail — specifically, Rikers Island — is where he is. And when the wounded reverend suddenly dies in the hospital, Angel (John Ortiz) lands in solitary next to a notorious serial killer (Ron Cephas Jones) and under the knee of a sadistic guard (David Zayas) out to make both their lives miserable, or worse. Now Angel, who figures he was justified and the jury's going to let him off at trial, finds himself with more trouble than he bargained for.

    Company: Labyrinth Theater Co..
    Written by: Stephen Adly Guirgis.
    Directed by: Philip Seymour Hoffman.
    Cast: Elizabeth Canavan, Salvatore Inzerillo, Ron Cephas Jones, John Ortiz, David Zayas.

    Related links: Official site
    Angel's overconfident public defender (Elizabeth Canavan) encourages him to think this way — she believes Angel is a good soul at heart, not a vicious criminal like others she's seen, and is eager to get him acquitted. meanwhile, the person tugging at Angel's conscience is his serial-killer neighbor, who's turned to religion since his crime career ended, and doesn't believe Angel can find peace until he finds God and admits the evil he's done.

    That's the setup for our sort-of hero in "Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train." Ortiz is spectacular in the demanding role of Angel, a glib street kid who is both able to talk circles around his own lawyer and yet not savvy enough to understand that he no longer holds any of the cards. The other actors also shine, particularly Jones as the reformed psycho killer.

    The play's only problem is that, with the two prisoners its most articulate characters, it often feels like an old-fashioned social-reform play in which the most lowdown characters turn out to be the ones with the hearts of gold. But it never quite gets that far. In fact, the ending leaves open the possibility that the worst-seeming characters were actually on the side of good and the most likeable characters were the villains. (Or maybe I've got that backwards.) It's your call.

    The show is skillfully directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman (who acted in "True West" on Broadway, plus the films "Magnolia," "Boogie Nights" and my favorite, "Next Stop Wonderland"). Not only has he brought out excellent performances all around, but there are some subtle staging touches that add emotion to the play — like a split-second flash of light immediately before the intermission that manages to imply how everything will change in the second act.

    DECEMBER 12, 2000

    Reader comments on Jesus Hopped the "A" Train:

  • jesus   from marlene forte, Mar 31, 2002

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