Eclipse Theatre’s “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” Review – Rattling the Cage of Free Will Illusions

 

Many hours after the final curtain falls, you too may be ruminating on the sadistic guard’s repeated threats to “Move away from the cage!”   It strikes as a poetic refrain summing up the script’s exquisitely multi-layered exploration of free will. 

 

 

The cage is the first thing we contemplate in Eclipse Theatre’s rendition of “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train”, drawing us in before the curtain rises.   Like a quickly constructed haphazard holding pen for rabbits, this one is set up on top of the jail as an exercise area for prisoners being protected from the larger jail population (Scenic Design- Kevin Scott).   

 

Lucius (D’Wayne Taylor), a born-again convicted serial killer, inhabits one pen and later is joined in the contiguous pen by Angel (Johnathan Nieves), a young man who has just unwittingly murdered a Reverend Moon type cult leader who had enslaved the mind of his best friend.  

 

There are two guards—

 

 

 

one an unabashed sadist who revels in his superiority to the prisoners  (Christian Castro)

 

 

and another (Zach Bloomfield) who seems to ponder the serial killer’s crimes no deeper than how it might allow him fifteen minutes of fame.  

 

 

 

Mary Jane (Elizabeth Birnkrant) is a Public Defender whose acute disaffection from the injustice system she serves ensnares her to fight for Angel.

 

We get to know these characters very quickly and intimately.

 

The cage set telegraphs immediately that this script has a freedom theme, so timely for those of us celebrating the story of Passover this week.   That’s just about the only thing that one can predict in this masterwork script by award-winning Stephen Adly Guirguis.  

 

 

The story unfolding provides a great ride--wrestling not only the ins and outs of free will, but also taking on the difference between justice and law, subjective and objective guilt, and the role of faith in human survival.   

 

 

Their story gets us to ponder the murky boundaries between ill-advised impulses and deep-felt convictions, and to think anew about how much choice we have vs. how much programming by our history we simply live out.  

 

The superb acting and staging (Director:  Anish Jethmalani) goes a long way to unleashing the raw power of Guirgis’ script. 

 

I found myself anxiously consulting the Eclipse Theatre website to make sure that we haven’t missed other Guirgis-penned stories in Eclipse’s  “one playwright-one season” style of programming.  (We haven’t—the season will continue with more Guirgis scripts.)

 

“Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” is one of the top picks now on Chicago stages through May 22.

 

Athenaeum Theatre

2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, IL 60657 

 

For tickets and information call the Athenaeum Box Office  at 773-935-or visit the Eclipse Theatre website.

 

Photos:  Scott Dray

 

 

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