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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 29, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 26
ACT and Azeotrope team up for taut jail drama
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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ACT and Azeotrope team up for taut jail drama

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

JESUS HOPPED THE A TRAIN
AZEOTROPE (at ACT Theatre)
Through June 30


A crystalline performance about very un-black-and-white religious issues is one of the best theater productions in the city at this moment. Jesus Hopped the A Train, a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis (who also wrote the hit The Motherfucker with the Hat), is produced by ACT Theatre and Azeotrope under the aegis of ACT's Central Heating Lab (in which ACT partners with a small company). You have only this weekend left to see it - and you should.

Directed by Desdemona Chiang, this tightly written and performed play takes place in the gritty world of New York City's Rikers Island jail, primarily the solitary-confinement lockup. Through an ingenious device by scenic designer Deanna Zibello - a rising middle third of a rectangular set that creates separate 'cells' and reverts to an interview room when down - and the use of a metal stairway and catwalk area, a credible prison environment is created. Sound design and music by Christian 'Lil Kriz' Beeber and Jay Weinland create the clang of metal-on-metal and an ambient grittiness. Highly focused lighting by Jessica Trundy keeps the attention squarely on whoever needs it.

Lucius Jenkins (Dumi) is an eight-time (at least) murderer who has 'found Jesus' in prison. Is that a stereotype? Even if it's true, does it mean he is now an asset to society?

Angel Cruz (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) is in prison for shooting a Moonie reverend in the ass as for 'stealing' his best friend into the cult. The Moonie died, so now he's a murderer. Does that make him a bad guy, even though he had no intent to kill? Does he need religious faith to be considered 'good'?

Valdez (Ray Tagavilla) is a prison guard. Jenkins points out that Valdez has the freedom to choose any job he wants, yet he chooses this one and subjects the prisoners to ridicule and abuse. Does Valdez's commitment to keeping bad guys in prison make him a good guy? Does his abuse of his authority make him as bad as the prisoners?

Mary Jane Hanharan (Angela DiMarco) is a public defender trying to keep from getting jaded. She starts off by telling Angel what is really an option at trial and derides 'legal justice' as an oxymoron, then gets over-connected to Angel's justification for shooting the Moonie. Her identification with Angel drives her to coach him in how to lie 'properly' on the stand, thus putting her career in jeopardy. Does she subvert justice in this case? Would 'jury nullification' (in which a jury finds the defendant not guilty despite the facts) vindicate Angel?

None of these characters is easily pigeonholed either way. The complexity of human thought and behavior is an objective plus in Guirgis' meaty script, and these four talented actors give taut performances (Patrick Allcorn also has a small role as a 'nice' guard). Sloniker and Dumi, in particular, reach for all the nuances and stay away from clich├ęs.

This is not a safe, predictable play - Azeotrope is not a safe, predictable company. But it is certainly one to watch.

For more information, go to www.azotheatre.org or www.acttheatre.org, or call (206) 292-7676. Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.Facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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