By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The performance concludes with how Marichal came to be a pallbearer at Roseboro's funeral, but not before spinning south to Los Angeles for the 1965 Watts riots, and then to Smith's (much later) separation from his wife, and his estrangement from and eventual quirky reconciliation with his daughter. Fissures and closures.
Over the stage hang Marc Anthony Thompson's video designs, which are like sculptures. For instance, there's a still shot of a torso in dramatic midpitch wearing No. 27, which has to be Marichal, but his head is cut out, Rodin-like.
And so emerges the historic tension between cultural mythology and autobiography. The sports and ethnic mythology emblemized in that brawl, and the riots in Los Angeles, are so relentlessly powerful, you have to wonder to what extent the autobiography can compete.
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Smith offers luminous impersonations of both Roseboro and Marichal, the latter overflowing with pride stemming from cultural indignities yet also amply remorseful for his tantrum.
To what extent is the artist, by filtering the riots and the brawl entirely through the pronoun "I," making these events smaller and self-focused? That was the accusation made about this newspaper years ago by one journalist, who parodied the entire enterprise as the Me Weekly.
We are all children of the age of confession. And Smith, like Spalding Gray, is a poet, and poets, almost by definition, speak of themselves. Gray's style was droll. He sat at a table in front of a microphone with a glass of water, and he spun yarns that were entirely personal, and through them emerged portraits from Manhattan to Cambodia. He barely moved, physically. Just a man, and his voice, and his ruminations.
Smith, on the other hand, is a dancer and an orator and an emoter. Almost by definition. It's hard to be wry when you're bursting into tears, and that may be his paradox, that the "I" is a little too close to home, and thereby diminishes, ever so slightly, the "we" in a performance that's ravishing nonetheless.
JUAN AND JOHN | Created and performed by Roger Guenveur Smith | Presented by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre | 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City | Through May 29 | (213) 628-2772 | centertheatregroup.org