Story: Angel Cruz is being held in prison for assaulting a religious leader along the lines of Reverend Moon. Actually, Angel shot the reverend in the posterior, angry that the man's cult had inculcated his best friend. When the religious leader dies from a heart attack following the shooting, Angel is accused of murder.
A public defender named Mary Jane Hanrahan is assigned to represent Angel. After her initial disgust with his flippant responses and degrading treatment of her, she takes on his case and becomes obsessed with his acquittal, impairing her own legal judgment in the process. Angel is confined to a prison cell adjacent to one occupied by Lucius Jenkins, a serial killer who is fighting extradition from New York to Florida even as he embraces his newfound Christianity, something abrasive guard Valdez uses against Jenkins in their daily battle of wits. While Jenkins savors his daily one-hour dose of sunshine, Angel fights for freedom.
Highlights: This gritty and grueling two-act drama written by Stephen Adly Guirgis premiered in New York City in 2000, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, as have been several of Guirgis's efforts. Jesus is receiving its local professional premiere in a spare R-S Theatrics production directed by associate artistic director Christina Rios, the company's final presentation at its current home in the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court before the mall is rehabbed in 2012.
Other Info: R-S Theatrics searches for edgy, provocative material to present, plays requiring minimal staging and relying on the substance of the words for full dramatic impact. Earlier efforts this season, such as Suicide, Inc. and Gruesome Playground Injuries, have offered substantial food for thought.
Such is not the case, for the most part, with Jesus. Guirgis' laboring script is long on talk and woefully short on action, resulting in an endurance test with the audience that is more wearying than rewarding.
Rios does benefit from some fine performances, notably Adam Flores as the testy Angel and Elizabeth Graverman as the world-weary attorney. Flores' antic behavior, from his staccato swearing to the hunted, desperate look in his eyes, fill Angel with an urgency the troubled youth has difficulty articulating but that consumes his existence. Graverman convincingly conveys the unhappy, fuzzy-thinking attorney, who is so enamored with her own version of her reputation that she unwisely makes a series of ill-advised decisions with damaging results.
Terell W. J. Randall Sr. offers an interesting portrayal of the prison philosopher, Lucius, but too often is saddled with overly long and meandering speeches. B Weller brings his usual polish to the supporting role of the sadistic guard Valdez, a small and venal man who takes pleasure in inflicting pain. Kevin Stroup fills the minor role of another guard, Charlie, who befriends the psychopathic Jenkins despite the latter's murderous record.
Jesus Hopped the ‘A' Train is full of desperate characters doing and talking about desperate measures. Mostly, though, it's too static for any powerful statement, instead idling on the tracks until its distant conclusion.
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5
Group: R-S Theatrics
Venue: ArtSpace at 220 Crestwood Court, Watson at Sappington
Dates: December 8, 9, 10, 11
Tickets: $10-$15; contact 968-8070 or RSTheatrics@yahoo.com
Photos courtesy of Autumn Rinaldi