Tag Archives: Mark Brokaw

Jesus Hopped The “A” Train

Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Jesus Hopped the “A” Train was first produced in New York in 2000.  Its portrait of a criminal justice system that is short on justice and long on system easily transferred to London’s Donmar Warehouse and earned the playwright an Olivier Award.  Shamefully, the predicaments the piece explores have only gotten worse, making the revival at the Signature as timely and poignant as ever.

Guirgis has a flare for language and exploring characters not often seen in commercial theater.  Similar to his recent Between Riverside and Crazy, the people we get to know in these two plus hours are trapped by circumstances.  In this piece, the playwright is able to draw on his expertise in violence prevention, taking a deep dive into what makes a criminal and what makes a crime.  He relies a little over-much on exposition, but even that is vivid and intense.

Those of you plugged into New York’s performing arts news may already know that *both* leads in this production had to be replaced: one for scheduling issues and the other for health reasons.  Though this meant extended creative tinkering for the supporting actors and director Mark Brokaw, Sean Carvajal as Angel and Edi Gathegi as Lucius have taken control of their roles body and soul.  The cast changes left SAG winner (for Desperate Housewives) Ricardo Chivira as the best known name in the lineup.  His Valdez is a tad mustache-twirly, but helps focus some of the angrier energy.

Jesus Hopped the A TrainWhen I lived in San Francisco, I volunteered at a residential program for former felons.  I realize this makes me more likely to respond to the plight of bright creative people who make terrible decisions and are helped along that path by a lack of education, support and resources.  Judging from the emotional reaction of audience members around me, these characters are so beautifully detailed, their situation will draw you in just because you are human.

Brokaw keeps the staging minimal, appropriate for the prison lock-down wing where most of the action takes place.  His focus is on well-paced dialogue delivery and appropriate physicality.  We deeply feel along with the characters as much as we hear their tales unfold.  It is slightly painful, yet wondrous.

The simple set by Riccardo Hernandez conveys a sense of confinement, while still giving the actors sufficient room for expression and interaction.  Prison garb by Dede M. Ayite has tiny touches of individuality.  Lighting by Scott Zielinski and sound by M. L. Dogg hint at what’s beyond the walls we see.

Whether you are a social justice advocate or a fan of emotionally moving drama, Guirgis’s work has something important to say.  Due to the delays caused by the recasting and resulting extra rehearsal days as well as to the enthusiastic response of the audience since the run’s relaunch, this production of Jesus Hopped the “A” Train has been extended through December 3.   The ticket price has been bumped from the regular $30 to the still-reasonable $55.  They are available on the Signature Theater website, http://www.signaturetheatre.org/shows-and-events/Productions/2017-2018/Jesus-Hopped-the-A-Train.aspx.

Heisenberg

HeisenbergMTCFriedman TheatreIf the name “Heisenberg” has frightened you into thinking this is a dense play about quantum mechanics, never fear.  It is, rather, about the most everyday of occurrences: two dissimilar people getting to know each other and determining the substance of their relationship.  Like protons, can they come together to form something bigger and more powerful?  And if they do, what is the potential for that configuration to change?

The series of somewhat commonplace conversations about life, work, and love is made compelling by two gifted actors: Denis Arndt as Alex and Mary-Louise Parker as Georgie.  The disparity in their ages is the least significant of their differences.  I had heard about their incredible chemistry, but that’s not the word I would use to describe their bond.  What flashes between them struck me as more skillful than emotional, like trapeze artists who know exactly when to extend their arms even when there is no music.  There is much communicated in a simple smile or touch.  But it is absorbing artistry, not as impassioned as I expected.

The slow-burn of personal revelations is pepped up with flashes of humor and provocative uncertainty.  Simon Stephens, who so brilliantly adapted The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, has here provided a simple dialogue with a intriguing angle.  We learn fairly early on that Georgie can tell a convincing and detailed lie.  That makes everything she says and does suspect, even when she’s admitting to lying.  It’s a tribute to the characters’ development — their ultimate sweetness and vulnerability —  that I found myself wondering for days whether the key turning points of their journey together stemmed from genuine crisis or Georgie’s well-constructed (possibly dubiously motivated) flights of fancy.

Heisenberg was commissioned by Manhattan Theatre Club and played off-Broadway last summer at City Center. Within its new Broadway home, director Mark Brokaw has recreated the proper space for his intimate yet significant production, greatly reducing the size of the stage by placing 200 members of the audience in seats on the stage.  The feeling is more of a small town sports arena than a professional New York theater, which is no doubt intentional.  With limited room to move, the two actors can’t help but confront each other at every turn. in action as well as in word.  Outlines of locations from a train station to a butcher shop to a hotel room are defined by scenic designer Mark Wendland using folding tables and chairs. Scenic beats are created with Austin R. Smith’s lighting and David van Tieghem’s sound.

Three of the closest people in my life I met randomly through uncharacteristic circumstances.  So it is not a surprise that the underpinnings of Heisenberg resonated with me.  If you, too, know that experience of a chance encounter that alters your life or you simply enjoy seeing potential unfold between strangers, then you will find Heisenberg an engrossing way to spend 80 minutes.  It is playing through December 11, 2016 at the Samuel  J. Friedman Theater.  For tickets and information visit http://heisenbergbroadway.com.