Roger Guenvuer Smith Photo: Craig Schwartz/CTG 2011
Roger Guenvuer Smith is at his best on stage when he’s at his most autobiographical. So it’s a reason to celebrate that he is back at the Kirk Douglas Theater in another one-man performance that is as much spoken word as it is dramatic monologue. The new 90-minute piece, Juan and John
, digs into Smith’s familiar south Los Angeles childhood for the starting points of his stories as did his 2006 show The Watts Towers Project
. And while Juan and John
is also preoccupied with the summer of 1965 in Los Angeles, it examines a much broader collection of events than the civil unrest of that year. The new work, instead, takes up Smith’s love of baseball and in particular his hero worship of Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro. Now I should state that anyone of a certain age who lived through this time and with a love of baseball and/or the Dodgers of that period will adore this show and its familiar recreation of shared memories and sports banter. However, there is so much more here, that even if you know nothing of sports or this period, Jaun and John
captivates you with Smith’s gorgeously detailed storytelling.
1965 was the year San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal, the first player from the Dominican Republic that would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, struck Johnny Roseboro’s bare head several times with a baseball bat generating an on-field melée at Candlestick Park in August of that year. Smith details the history of this event both leading up to and for many years following this notorious event, often taking on the voices of both men at several different ages. Of course, all of this is elaborately framed within Smith’s own autobiographical reflections about his boyhood anger toward Marichal, his relationship with his own teenage daughter, and his own aging. He pulls the audience in at times directly quizzing viewers about things they remember and tying in contemporary local issues as well including the unavoidable and tragic beating of a Giants fan in Los Angeles earlier this year on the Dodgers opening day.
As should be clear by now, Smith has a much greater agenda in Juan and John
than telling a straightforward, though gripping baseball tale. This is a work about forgiveness, perhaps one of the most difficult themes to pull off on stage. The transition in this tale is a subtle one about how we all learn to get along, even after the most terrible things have happened between us. Juan and John
is a bit of a miracle in and of itself given the subtle way it manages to sneak up on the viewer with its bigger points. It is both comforting and challenging at the same time. Smith’s performance here is perhaps less lyrical and overtly dance-inspired than previous outings including The Watts Towers Project
. It’s a physical piece to be sure, but Smith is more urgent and direct this time around with less discursive ideas than previously. It works, though, for a story and performance that is more immediately reliant on the artifice of a conversation among long time friends with a shared history. Juan and John
may be one of the best original things you see on stage in Los Angeles this year, and it undoubtedly speaks to the city we all live in now. It runs in Culver City through May 29.
Labels: Kirk Douglas Theater