By J. Manuel Rivera Cortes
“Jesus Hopped the A Train” opened in the Studio Theatre Oct. 17. The production received a standing ovation once the curtain fell. The contemporary play was written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, who has been part of the New York theatre scene for the past 20 years. He won the 2015 Pulitzer for drama for “Between Riverside and Crazy”. This play is the third Guirgis original to grace a Lehman stage, following “Motherfucker with the Hat” in fall of 2013 and “Our Lady of 121 Street” in the winter of 2008.
Directed by Lehman Theatre professor Jennifer McCabe, the play entailed moments of humor as well as addressing serious themes like disillusionment in society.
“Jesus Hopped the A Train” follows the lives of two convicts on Rikers Island: Angel Cruz, played by Giovanni Ortiz, Lucius Jenkins, played by Jonathan Carter. Cruz is a young Puerto Rican man arrested for shooting a religious leader, Reverend Kim, who he believes to be the leader of a cult that brainwashed his best friend. Matters take an unexpected turn when Reverend Kim dies during surgery, and Cruz is charged with his death.
Jenkins on the other hand is a serial killer who has connected with his lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Cruz must come to terms with the consequences of his actions, while Jenkins fails to take responsibility for his own. Both men are transformed by the sadistic Officer Valdez, played by Shantelle Watkins. She takes them on a journey that causes them to accept their circumstances.
Ortiz and Carter put on rousing performances as murderers. McCabe implemented serious themes, while incorporating levity and humor. The initial exchange between Jenkins and Cruz was tense yet humorous. Lou’s positive spirit complemented Angel’s pessimism in a comedic way. McCabe was able to direct the actors in a way that created a balance between the gravity of the situation and the lighthearted moments. The audience was overcome with laughter when Valdez was attempting to break Jenkins spirit and Lou commented, “I have rights.”
“Carter does an amazing job relaying the inner conflict of his character.”
– Lehman senior Albert Huertas, a history major
The revelation about Lou’s fate resulted in gasps from the audience. Senior Albert Huertas, a history major, said, “I was shocked, I thought Lou was gonna beat it. Carter does an amazing job relaying the inner conflict of his character.”
Lehman alumna Cynthia La Cruz Jimenez said, “It was so great! They did an amazing job.” Albert Huertas agreed: “I don’t normally like plays, but this was freaking sweet!”
The eight student actors were transformed by their onstage experiences. Watkins said, “My journey has been impactful. I believe in [McCabe’s] vision. She allowed us to grow as actors and as students.”
Senior Christine D’Onofrio, who played Mary Jane Hanrahan, concurred: “This experience has been life changing and eye opening to me…[McCabe] is extremely good at constructive criticism. We respect and trust her.”