At ACT, an edgy and provocative production about inmates

Jun 18, 2012

On stage at ACT Theater is a play about two inmates and their different outlooks on life. One man is on Death Row and has found God. The other is facing attempted murder charges and has lost faith.

The play is called "Jesus Hopped the A Train." It was written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and world premiered in New York in 2000.

Now it's in Seattle, in a production by a Seattle company called Azeotrope that thrives on material that's edgy and provocative.

The company was started by Desdemona Chiang and Richard Nguyen Sloniker who met as grad students while at the School of Drama at the University of Washington.  One night in 2009 they were out drinking and brainstorming and they realized they shared a common interest: to produce work about people who don't get represented.

"And then we realized...we were interested in the ugly bits of people and darker sides of people we don't like to see," Chiang says.

Like humans who devolve into wild, vulgar beings. "Hunter Gatherers," by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, was a play they did in school. Their inaugual Azeotrope production in 2010 was the play "Red Light Winter" by Adam Rapp. It told the story of two guys and a prostitute in Amsterdam all searching for connection. The production earned the company rave reviews and put Azeotrope on the map as a start-up company to watch.

It also earned them an invitation by ACT's Central Heating Lab, the new talent incubator, to produce what's on stage now.

Set in Rikers Island prison, "Jesus Hopped the A Train" focuses on Angel Cruz, newly arrived after shooting a cult leader. The shooting occurred as Cruz tried to rescue his best friend from the cult.  He feels justified but when the cult leader dies and he faces attempted murder charges, Cruz's faith spirals downward.

Cruz tries to kill himself and is put into solitary confinement -- and that's when he meets Lucius Jenkins, a serial killer who has found God and becomes a mentor of sorts.

The story is about faith, salvation and redemption -- and it tests one's thoughts on who and what is right and who and what is wrong.

The cast includes Sloniker as Cruz and acting newcomer Dumi as Jenkins. Chiang directs. It runs through June 30 at ACT Theatre's Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space.