On Breaths of Fresh Air: A Review of Synergy Theatre Project’s Jesus Hopped the A Train

Yeah, yeah.  It’s Spring.  Blossoms snowing from the forest canopy.  Sunshine.  Sandals.  I mean that too.

But the breath of fresh air I’m talking about is of the theatrical kind.

On Saturday night, I saw Synergy Theatre’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Jesus Hopped the A Train at the Trafalgar Studios, and it was excellent.

The play has brilliant moments, especially in its dialogue.  It’s funny, which is saying a lot for a bleak prison drama drenched in racism, sadism and fatalistic bleakness.  But what got me–the breath of fresh air breathed in–the inspiration–was the acting, not the writing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a complete and polished ensemble.  Their timing was perfect.  The riff of profanity and prayer that opens the play has it all:  perfect timing and perfect pathos.  It sets the tone for a play both funny and devastating, and Angel Cruz’s (the lead character, played by Theo Jones) swift snap from desperate to irritated to absolutely, naively innocent assures us that we were in for an interpretation by a quick-witted chameleon actor.

Actually, make that actors, as became clear as each made their subsequent entrances:  a slimy, cheese-doodle-munching prison guard with an impressive moustache;  a psycho, victimized and victimizing tiger caged on death row;  a driven, cynical New York blonde whose idealism sparkles disastrously under her toughness; an innocuous guard who treats the prisoner like just another guy in the neighborhood.  They’re all magnificent.

And they don’t have the easiest task.  Yes, the play has brilliant moments that must be immensely gratifying to work with.  The characters are compelling.  But the riveting dialogue is interspersed with problematic monologues that are on the whole too long and often awkwardly situated between scenes.  In the case of Lucius (played by Ricky Fearon), the actor must work particularly hard to avoid the trap of repetition set for him by the writer, or (as he does) to make the repetition itself compelling, and a revealing aspect of his unhinged character.

I could go on.  I won’t.  I’ll take a cue from director Esther Baker’s aesthetic and keep it simple.  Simply, I say: go see it.

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