Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 30th March 2002

Frame 312 / Jesus Hopped the A Train / Gagarin Way

The Spectator - 30th March 2002

A season of American imports at the Donmar Warehouse began earlier this month with two new plays: Frame 312 and Jesus Hopped the A Train. The first of these, a critical examination of suburban complacency, is the usual assortment of clichés served up with a bit of mumbo jumbo about the Kennedy assassination, but the second is a well-written prison melodrama about the redeeming power of religious faith.

Watching Frame 312 I was reminded of American Beauty, an equally unsympathetic portrait of suburban American life directed by Sam Mendes, the Domnar's Artistic Director. The central figure in Frame 312 is similar to the character played by Annette Bening in the Oscar-winning film: a frustrated, middle-aged woman who has a bad relationship with her daughter. In both cases, the character's dissatisfaction stems from having sacrificed too much in order to conform to a rigid, middle-class stereotype. Liberation comes when she starts dismantling the life she has worked so hard to put together.

As a piece of anti-bourgeois agitprop, American Beauty is far superior. Frame 312 actually asks us to believe that its protagonist has been suppressing vital evidence about the Kennedy assassination for the past 30 odd years. But they both share the same central shortcoming which is the belief that this tired old critique of middle class family life is an original and daring point of view. I have no objection to members of the urban intelligentsia, both here and in America, hurling a few brickbats around, but isn't it about time they came up with a harder target than the suburban bourgeoisie? Laying into soccer mums is about as courageous as attacking racists or homophobes. Where are the real radical voices of our generation and why can't they be heard on the West End stage?

Jesus Hopped the A Train may be just what the doctor ordered. Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, it's a brilliantly-acted investigation into the age old question of whether God really exists. The debate is conducted between two prisoners in protected custody on Rikers Island, one a serial killer played by Ron Cephas Jones, the other a misguided idealist played by John Ortiz. The acting is so intense, so emotional, it feels like your watching a form of primal therapy. Contrary to expectations, it's the serial killer who's the devout Christian, while the sweet-natured young man, appropriately called Angel, is the sceptic. They strain every fibre of their beings to make themselves understood, rattling the bars of their cages with the vigour of silverback gorillas. By the time the play draws to a conclusion, after 110 minutes of visceral drama, everyone, including the audience, is thoroughly exhausted.

At times, Jesus Hopped the A Train feels like it's been cooked up by a group of actors to give expression to the full range of their talents, as if the material is serving the performers rather than the other way round. Intellectually, it's not as well worked-out as it should be. Nevertheless, it has an emotional coherence that transcends the murkiness of its ideas. The thing I really liked about it is that it appears to come down firmly on the side of the believers. If I was a trendy vicar, I'd transport my little charges down to Covent Garden on the next available minibus. Jesus Hopped the A Train is something genuinely courageous in this day and age: a pro-Christian play.

Gagarin Way, which has transferred to the Arts Theatre after a successful run at the National, is an altogether different proposition. Set in a depressed, Scottish town, its central character, Eddie, is a psychotic factory worker intent on venting his rage at the meaningless of existence. Like Jesus Hopped the A Train, Gagarin Way is a play of ideas, but these ideas are expressed rather than embodied by the characters. Too often the playwright, Gregory Burke, just has the characters regurgitate the theory of some fashionable French intellectual, as if they're reading from an essay on literature and philosophy by a pretentious sixth former. Indeed, some of the dialogue could well have been lifted verbatim from Burke's teenage diaries. Gagarin Way is his first play and, judging from his appearance, he's only just stopped getting spots.

Unfortunately, it's not just Alain de Botton that Burke's overdosed on; it's also Quentin Tarantino. Eddie and his best friend kidnap an executive with a view to "making a statement" by cutting his throat and a debate ensues about whether violence in pursuit of political ends can ever be justified. Evidently, Burke has an A-level in Politics as well as French. Then, just when I was beginning to think that this play would make the perfect primer for a bright 18-year-old about to sit the Oxbridge examination, it erupts in a frenzy of gratuitous violence. Within five minutes, the stage is awash with blood and Eddie has metamorphosised into Hanibal Lecter. The American tourist sitting next to me turned white with horror and then red in anger. I know exactly how he felt.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter RT @QuilletteM: Do Parents Make a Difference? A Public Debate in London | @toadmeister link  (8 hours ago)


The shocking truth about Jordan Peterson by Wesley Yang -
The intellectual dark web by Bari Weiss -
How identity politics is harming the sciences by Heather Mac Donald -
The fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat -
How Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe by Michael Lewis - Vanity Fair
The neuro-diversity case for free speech by Geoffrey Miller -
The Age of Outrage by Jonathan Haidt -
The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski -
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony -
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller -
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan -
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand -
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge -
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell -
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander -
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell -
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff -
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings -
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew -
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus -
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman -
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer -
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan -
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Inside Westminster's free school -
Robert Conquest obit -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film