Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Todd Hofley, with Steve Coombes, Rothaford Gray, Paolo Mancini, Kathryn Romanow and Richard Zeppieri. Presented by tac theatre at the Berkeley Street Upstairs (26 Berkeley). Runs to June 19, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2 pm. $25, stu/srs $20. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Stephen Adly Guirgis is currently off-Broadway's "It" playwright, and no wonder. He's got an amazing voice. Imagine the stylized and ornate cadences of Quentin Tarantino with a bit of Catholic guilt and a more diverse cultural background. It's a voice that makes you realize there's a fine line between genius and madness, and it bellows throughout Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train . From the play's opening monologue - a dramatic, funny and rap-sodic rendition of the Lord's Prayer recited in a prison cell - you know you're dealing with a major talent.
After shooting the cult leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon in the ass, Angel Cruz ( Paolo Mancini ) is placed in a cell, where a jaded public defender ( Kathryn Romanow ) reluctantly tries to piece out his story. When the religious leader dies, Cruz is shipped out to Riker's Island, where he meets up with the born-again serial killer Lucius ( Rothaford Gray ) and the sadistic prison guard Valdez ( Richard Zeppieri ).
It's not much of a plot, but Guirgis shifts time, point of view and tone so well that you don't care. And his themes - guilt, redemption and the mysteries of human motivation - intersect nicely without ever seeming manipulative.
Director Todd Hofley rises to the script's challenges. There's a dramatic arc and symmetry to the piece, and the pace in all but a couple of short scenes is consistently taut. The actors, especially Gray and Zeppieri, ride the language nimbly, though Mancini sounds a similar note throughout much of the play.
Gregory Kott 's lighting and Martin Deller 's sound design could use a bit more variety, but overall this is a riveting production of an important play by an even more important writer.