Angel Cruz is a thirty-year-old bike messenger from NYC who has lost his best friend to a religious cult. At the opening of the play, he is in his second night of incarceration, awaiting trial for shooting the leader of that cult in the "ass." He is on his knees, alone and terrified, trying to say a prayer he no longer remembers to a God he has all but forgotten. Angel's public defender is Mary Jane Hanrahan, still relatively young but very nearly disillusioned. At their first meeting, she mistakes Angel for another case. Wounded by her pride and Angel's sharp attacks, she mangles this initial interview and walks out. A crisis of conscience and an unresolved connection to her childhood brings her back, and Angel's heartfelt, persuasive arguments against the cult leader persuade her to champion his cause. By this time, the cult leader, Reverend Kim, has died on the operating table, and the charge against Angel is now murder. Angel has been beaten regularly by other inmates and is discovered in his cell barely conscious with a bed sheet tied around his neck. He is transferred to a special twenty-three-hour lockdown wing of protective custody. His jailer is Valdez, a brutally direct prison guard who believes in a world of black and white only. No gray areas permitted. Valdez has taken the post of Charlie D'Amico, a guard Angel never meets. For one hour a day, Angel experiences daylight from a cage on the Riker's Island Prison roof. His only source of human contact is the lone inmate who is also in protective custody. Lucius Jenkins, a.k.a. "the Black Plague," works out furiously in the cage next to Angel. A sociopathic serial killer awaiting extradition to Florida, Lucius pauses from his workouts only to chain smoke and to "save" Angel. Lucius Jenkins has found God, and Angel's life and the course of his trial will be changed forever.
"…fire-breathing…[a] probing, intense portrait of lives behind bars…whenever it appears that JESUS is settling into familiar territory, it slides right beneath expectations into another, fresher direction. It has the courage of its intellectual restlessness…[JESUS HOPPED THE 'A' TRAIN] has been written in flame."—New York Times