The Stephen Adly Guirgis-written, Philip Seymour Hoffman-directed Jesus Hopped the A Train, the latest production from Off-Off Broadway's LAByrinth Theatre Company, has been a success, with overflow crowds often sitting in the aisle of the tiny Chelsea-area Center Stage. Nonetheless, the prison drama must close on Aug. 12 as scheduled, to make way for another play.
A Train was not open for review but was instead intended as a workshop of sorts. Though the production was fairly polished, the team wish to work on it further and reopen it again at a later date.
Hoffman directed the piece -- which began July 18 -- having only recently exited his role-switching duties in the Broadway production of True West. [See Playbill On-Line's Brief Encounter feature story with Hoffman.] Guirgis is also author of the currently-running Sistah Supreme.
A Train takes place in a northern city prison, and is primarily the story of two inmates. One, Angel, is a sweet, confused youth who rashly shot a local cult leader in retaliation for the guru's having drafted his best friend. In jail, he meets Lucius, a Bible-quoting fitness freak who preaches a philosophy of positive thinking while busily trying to beat an attempt to extradite him to Florida for a series of serial murders. Trying to drive them apart is Valdez, a thugish, abusive prison guard, while Angel's female lawyer goes a couple steps over the legal line to secure her client's acquittal.
The production was given a kinetic, fast-moving production by Hoffman, complementing Guirgis' expletive-filled, serio-comic writing style. John Ortiz stars, alongside David Zayas Elizabeth Canavan, Sal Inzerillo and Ron Cephas Jones. Designing the show are Narelle Sissons (set), Mimi O'Donnell (costumes), Sarah Sidman (lighting) and Eric DeArmon (sound).
Hoffman and Guirgis collaborated last year of LAByrinth's hit production of Guirgis' In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings, a production which enjoyed an extended run. The play was set amidst the current "new and improved" antiseptic Times Square, where alcoholic hookers, crackheads and gigolos meet to drink, talk, and have sex -- all trying to find their way to the next day.
Tickets are $15. Center Stage is located at 48 W. 21st Street in Manhattan. For tickets or more information, call (212) 929-2228.
-- By Robert Simonson