Phase Eight Theatre Company Review: JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN


Jacksonville’s newest theatre company, Phase Eight Theatre Company, launched its first season in January, 2017. The company staged “Jesus Hopped the “A” Train,” the fifth show of the season, during September 28 — October l at a studio in WJCT’s broadcasting facility in Downtown Jacksonville. Phase Eight Theatre Company‘s latest play is contemporary, relevant, and thought-provoking.

This play, by Stephen Adly Guirgis, debuted at the New York 2000 Fringe Festival. Guirgis has authored ten plays; “Between Riverside and Crazy” won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Several of his plays were originally directed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman (1967 — 2014), a well-known actor and director.

Artistic Director and Founder of Phase Eight, JaMario Stills, has brought together an engaging cast of five actors who bring vibrancy and intensity to the performance. “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” is set in New York City at the infamous Rikers Island prison and is the story of two prisoners, two guards, and a public defender.

Actor Derick Grant appears as Lucius, an articulate but paranoid African American; a serial killer who throws profanity around like hand grenades and professes to have found God. He has killed eight people and is waiting to be sent to Florida where he will be executed.


Angel, portrayed by Hays Jacobs, is a young Puerto Rican. His performance is riveting as he awaits trial for the murder of a cult leader, who has brainwashed and stolen his friend. While Angel readily admits he did shoot the reverend, he maintains his intention was not to kill but only to wound, which was justified; the man was an exploitive spiritual charlatan.

Capitvating Rich Pintello is the chilly Valdez, a brutal sadistic guard who replaced the more compassionate D’amico. Jan Peter Buksar portrays D’amico who loses his job but later has the opportunity to take the doomed Lucius to Florida for his date with death. Buksar delivers a very poignant monologue as he prepares to leave with the prisoner.

Blythe Reed, JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN A PHASE EIGHT THEATER COMPANY_WEB__001_The final character is the inexperienced public defender Mary Jane Hanrahan, portrayed by Blythe Reed with steely fortitude while trying to save Angel’s life. Mrs. Reed has three marvelous monologues as she attempts to subdue her client’s anger at what he perceives as the injustice of his imprisonment.

Although Angel and Lucius are separated by prison walls, they frequently argue about religion and redemption. The production struck the right fevered tone, and kept the audience on the edge of their seats with the authenticity of its dialogue.

The set was simple, with chain-link panels to define the cells, each of which contained a bench. A table and chairs were brought on stage for conferences between Angel and Mary Jane.

The cast was terrific for this demanding play, which included religious conflict, racial issues, incarceration issues, and social consciousness.


The production crew included JaMario Stills (Director), Heather Moore (Producer), Adam Groff (Set Design), Demetrius Ballard (Lighting Design), and Angel Lewis (Makeup).

Phase Eight’s next production will be a large cast staging of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” during December 7—10, 2017 at WJCT’s studio theatre. For additional information, see the Phase Eight Theatre Company facebook page and, their website.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.