Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train
Young Vic, London ★★★★✩
IN THIS tough prison play by New Yorker Stephen Adly Guirgis, Humans and Blindspot star Ukweli Roach is the coiled and fast-talking Angel Cruz.
Angel shot a well known, self-proclaimed prophet in his ‘buffalo-sized ass’ for brainwashing his best friend into joining a cult. Now Angel’s on an attempted murder charge with only public defender Mary Jane Hanrahan (Ballykissangel’s Dervla Kirwan) standing between him and a life sentence.
The fate of Angel might alone be enough to hold the attention for this production’s two hours or so. But it is Guirgis’s language that is the key to this fast and furious play, first seen in 2000. Words and sentences have the grip of an angry man with a score to settle. Roach’s Angel raps out his lines at the speed of a machine gun with a destructive power behind them.
Meanwhile, regret in the form of religion swirls around like a gathering storm. Angel mispronounces the Lord’s prayer — ‘Howard be thy name.’
Then there is convicted serial killer Lucius Jenkins — played by the powerfully built and charismatic Oberon K.A. Adjepong — who escapes thoughts of death row with a born-again, God-fearing zeal. His new guard Valdez (Joplin Sibtain), however, is sceptical — his atheism and belief in personal responsibility expressed with the fist and truncheon.
Kirwan does a decent job in the pivotal role of the lawyer, who is an oasis of rationality and reason in a play brimful of male aggression. And up-and-coming director Kate Hewitt harnesses it all superbly well, setting the action on a catwalk segmented by doors of toughened glass.
But it is Roach’s fallen Angel that’s really worth catching, a performance that conveys a human spirit trapped by a blunt, barbaric judiciary. Also outstanding is Sibtain as the prison guard, the system’s human dispenser of misery.