Joseph "Joe P" Palmore is used to being cast as the young, good person. But in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train the role he really wanted was that of Lucius Jenkins, the veteran felon and serial killer who says he's found Jesus.
"All his words just came off the page to me and the way he speaks it's just so natural. It's really the words of a sociopath serial killer who thinks he's saved," Palmore says. "It forces people to really think about their idea of Christianity and what the Bible says and are you a true believer and take the Bible word for word which is what you're supposed to do as far as following it and if so then a man like me can be saved."
The other main character is Angel Cruz (played by Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott), who has shot a cult leader in the butt while trying to get a friend out of the cult and now is sitting in the Rikers Island jail complex while he waits for his trial. Desperate, Angel tries to pray but can't remember how. His court-appointed attorney (Christy Watkins) has trouble keeping her clients' names straight. The guards don't care what's happening to Angel although finally after repeated inmate brutality, he's in protective custody.
Enter Lucius. And what follows in the story set in the year 2000 by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is a searing look at what happens to people in jail or prison, particularly to people of color.
"It deals with the prison industry and how it treats minorities," Palmore says. "It's a system that's set up to have people that look like me end up in there and once you're in there it's a non-stop revolving door of being in and out."
Kim Tobin-Lehl, co-artistic director of 4th Wall Theatre Company, who is directing says that anyone, whether the person has ever been incarcerated or not, will identify with characters in this play. "You can't watch this play and not feel like it's about you." Audience members will be confronted with questions about morality, God and whether anyone has the right to be the judge, jury and executioner, she says.
Lucius has had a hard life and was never diagnosed for the mental health disorder he has, so that has some part in shaping his path, Palmore says.
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"You have to decide if Angel is a good person too. You have to decide is Angel actually an angel or is Lucius the devil or not," Tobin-Lehl says.
Palmore has been an actor for several years now, starting with The Ensemble Theatre when he first came to Houston. He worked at the Alley Theatre for four years as a teacher in the education department but couldn't get on as an actor he says. It was after he left that department that he started getting roles at any number of local theaters particularly after a stellar tun in The Whipping Man in 2014 at Stages Repertory Theatre.
Further describing his character, Palmore says: "He's a sociopath. He's charming, easy going, he's easy to talk to, He can manipulate you with his gift of gab. He's very intelligent, deals in logic. And doesn't get it when things aren't logical. He's found God which is one of the things I like about him. Now whether you believe he's found God, that's up to you"
Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. 7:30 p.m. Monday September 24 pay what you can. At Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For information, call 832-786-1849 or visit 4thwalltheatreco.com. $17-$53.