‘Jesus’ saves the day

Intense ride on the ‘A’ Train

The moment you stepped into the Little Theater and saw the lights overhead reflecting off the chain-link fencing meant to act as prison cells, you knew you’re going to see an intense production. And that’s just what the Los Medanos Drama Department was going for when they staged a production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “Jesus Hopped the A-Train” Wednesday, March 24.

The play set in New York’s Rikers Island, tells the story of Angel Cruz (played by Christian Williams) who’s charges go from assault to manslaughter when the man he shoots dies getting the bullet removed. His prison mate Lucius Jenkins (played by Michael Alexander) has killed eight people, but like many prisoners do, he’s found his second chance through religion.

The play was meant to focus on Cruz’s impending trial and the relationship between Cruz and Jenkins. The play, while doing a good job of discussing the intricacies of the trial by utilizing actress and Anya Johnston who played lawyer Mary Jane Hanrahan, seemed to focus more on Jenkins in scenes when he was conversing with Cruz. In some scenes, it was as if Jenkins was monologuing despite Cruz’s presence and contributions to the conversation.

That being said, the stand out performance came from Alexander. He was charming, funny and intense in all the right scenes. His character is like a know-it-all uncle who’s pleasant to be around, but is constantly giving you lectures and life lessons.

The play also zeros in on the relationship between guard and prisoner. Henry Benney who played the “nice” guard D’Amico, didn’t have the biggest role. He stumbled over his lines at the beginning, but his monologue toward the end about Jenkins was one of the most impactful scenes in the show.

And the moment, Valdez (played by Ariel Sandino) comes into view, shining a high-powered flashlight in the eyes of the audience — his role of the sadistic guard is established. There were minor issues in the first act as he struggled to convey the intensity the role required in his voice. But he played the role exceptionally well, especially since this was his first official performance.

Despite the heavy tone of the play, there was an easygoing back and forth between Cruz and Jenkins, adding a comedic aspect to the show.

The play dealt less with the injustices of the prison industry, and played more on the differences in the morals of each character. Angel doesn’t step up to take responsibility for his action until the end of the play but, throughout, he feels superior to Jenkins because he’s killed less people.

Jenkins sees all men as equal regardless of sin and Hanrahan has her own internal struggle between doing what’s best ethically and morally.

The overarching theme of the play is redemption and by the end of the play, all the characters have come to sobering realizations that will forever impact their perspective. Even the typically unfeeling Valdez is slightly more amicable by the play’s ending.

This play was a little different from most on campus as it starred almost all Diablo Valley College students, except Nick Murphy who attends LMC. This didn’t feel any different from an LMC play however. It was well acted and while it probably didn’t inspire anyone to take down America’s corrupt prison system, it did challenge its viewers to take a look at themselves.