What's it about.
Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train is about a man named Angel who is on Rikers Island in NYC, awaiting trail, after the shooting of a religious leader. While in prison, he has to face the justice system in harsh and interesting ways through a public defender he doesn't trust, a corrections officer who treats inmates like dirt and a fellow inmate named Lucius who has found God.
Going to the theatre on Halloween night... not a good idea for this girl right here. Let's just say I'm the biggest chicken and going out on this particular night every year, honestly, produces an unreal amount of anxiety. But I was so excited for this show, I couldn't pass up the opportunity.
This cast is straight up fire. I knew 3/5 cast members either from previous work they've done in film or television or from my personal life. Knowing so much about the actors before hand can sometimes distract me from paying enough attention to the show in front of me but I didn't find it to be an issue this time around. Could be because I found every single character so intricate, I couldn't think of anything else the entire show.
This show floored me. Like if I didn't have to be all "mature" and "professional" in that theatre seat, I might have shrunk to the floor and cried. Watching Angel's journey - Angel happens to be played by my friend Sean Carvajal who was also in Tell Hector I Miss Him (read that post here) - made me have a soft spot for prisoners in a way I never would have imagined. We're able to see why he did what he did, the back story behind his decision and how it led him to being behind bars. In seeing the entire context of the shooting, it made me feel an unusual sense of empathy. It's so easy for us to place judgement on prisoners, to assume that because they've done something wrong and are now in prison, they don't deserve to be treated like humans but given just a small amount of context behind their decision could be the turning point in going from indifference to empathy.
The character I felt the most compelled by was Lucius Jenkins (played by Twilight's Edi Gathegi). Lucius Jenkins is an inmate that we meet during his hour outdoors every day, enjoying the afternoon sun. At the beginning, we don't know a lot about why Lucius is in prison other than the small, degrading remarks that are made by CO Valdez. Lucius is a God loving man - having been saved in prison and born again, full of character and charisma. He even does his afternoon exercise while reciting the books of the Bible backwards. It's so hard not to love him from the very minute he starts to speak. Despite the way Valdez treats him - even going as far as spitting in his face - Lucius is unfazed and refuses to let the enemy win over God's unfailing love. When he meets Angel, who is now broken and destroyed due to his experiences in prison so far, Lucius presents Angel with an opportunity to give his life over to God. But Angel, having been arrested for shooting a religious leader, is not about it. He has only had a bad view of God his entire life. He's also not convinced that God would ever forgive people like them, who are technically murderers. Hearing Lucius' backstory, we can see why he was called 'the Black Plague'. But after getting an inside view on his past and how it led him to make certain decisions, I felt empathy for him. Does having empathy mean people shouldn't be punished for their crimes though?
This show made me dig so deep into my faith and it also made me feel inspired to create. Lucius declares his love for God and a love for Jesus so loudly and proudly despite being told multiple times by those around him that God - "if there is in fact a God" - would never love him after all he's done. And I started to ache thinking about that. When we say that God loves all of us, that includes the broken, the sinful and the hurting. Lucius, in the eyes of a follower of Jesus, would in fact be saved if he is honest in his declaration of faith and isn't just claiming Him because he's found himself without many other options and is afraid of Hell. But Angel's really honest, human questions rooted me even deeper. Is he wrong for feeling like there's no way a murderer would get a chance in heaven? Is he wrong in saying that Lucius is psychotic and shouldn't even be allowed in? The funny thing is faith in the unseen makes it so that these questions cannot be answered without it.
The scene where the title is mentioned made me emotional. Despite Angel's resistance to accept Lucius' offer to know God, Angel has a memory that he recalls to his lawyer about a time he could have been killed with his best friend while they were playing in the tracks of the 'A' train. But he believes that Jesus had to have stopped it because they managed to leap out untouched. Although this show does not have a seemingly happy ending for either of our inmates, I walked away feeling so mesmerized. Shortly after it ended, I wanted it to start all over again. There was something so beautiful about the writing style, the vulnerability and physicality of the actors that I have yet to experience at the theatre. Or at least in a very long time.
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