Friday, 9 May 2003

Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, REd Stitch, May 9, 2003

 Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train 
By Stephen Adly Guirgis  Red Stitch Actors' Theatre
Where and When: Rear Chapel St Prahran, May 9 to June 1, 2003 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There are three exceptional elements in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train: Kenneth Ransom's, Peter Evans' direction and Stephen Adly Guirgis' script.

Ransom plays Lucius,  a genuinely likeable and charming serial killer and psychopath who awaits extradition from a New York jail to Florida where he will be executed.

After killing eight people because they forced him to see the sun, he discovered Jesus. Lucius is alone in a twenty-three hour lock down security area of the jail until the hapless accidental young killer, Angel,  (Vince Miller) arrives in an adjoining cell.

Ransom plays Lucius's religious mania, warmth and charm with relish. He inhabits the role seamlessly, his timing is impeccable and his characterisation flawless.

Peter Evans directs this gritty piece with great sensitivity. He maintains a swift pace but allows the dense dialogue to remain clear. Evans uses to advantage the tiny space at Red Stitch's new premises. Christine Smith's  design creates two claustrophobic cells with lines of yellow paint and Dans Sheehan's  lighting design adds to the murky gloom. Guirgis is an actor writer and director with LAByrinth  Theater  in New York.

This award winning script challenges issues about the value of life, justice and the law, preconceptions about killers and the underclass in America. His language is complex and intense but there is no blurriness in his message nor in the development of his characters. It is a passionate and important piece of writing.

Kate Cole  is sympathetic and believable as Mary Jane,  Angel's jaded lawyer who rediscovers her vocation in defending Angel. Richard Cawthorne  and Dion Mills  play the two prison guards. Cawthorne gives Valdez  a violent, inhumane edge that is diametrically opposed to the humanity of Mills' character.

The play is structured around the two inmates. Slowly, Guirgis unfolds their stories through their solo scenes, monologues by Mary Jane or the Guard, their scenes with guards or lawyer and finally with each other. The power of Lucius's personality is the core of the play and Ransom makes a feast of it.

By Kate Herbert

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