There are so many fine elements in Giovanni Adams’ autobiographical solo show, Love Is a Dirty Word, that it’s hard to decide which to mention first: the cadenced flow of his beautifully detailed, 80-minute spoken-word poem, the open and disarming manner of his delivery, or the production’s flawless pacing under Becca Wolff’s accomplished direction.
The piece relays Adams’ journey from his childhood as the scion of a resolute mom and a charismatic dad in Jackson, Mississippi, up through his arrival in Hollywood, via Yale, where he first intimates his attraction to men and begins coming to terms with the conflicts and doubts besieging a Christian person of color on his road to manhood.
Adams’ first anecdote is a recollection of sitting in a pool of soapy water, bathed and embraced by a loving father — who later goes to prison and eventually disappears from his life altogether, leaving Adams' strong and capable but love-hankering mother to raise two little boys on her own.
His grandmother emerges so clearly you almost see her — a devout Christian woman who hums hymns and mixes metaphors in the parables she uses to impart her counsel for surviving in a hurtful world. Grandma scrubs toilets in white people’s homes for a living, sustained by reveries of a future place in the Kingdom of Heaven, represented by an image of a black Jesus displayed prominently on the wall of her neat and tidy home. Then there’s Larry, the handsome man who moves in with Adams' mom and, imposing order, becomes a second father, until he too fades out of the family’s lives.
One of the distinguishing aspects of this narrative is the embracing of life that emanates from its telling, despite the painful experiences of the narrator, who struggled through much of his boyhood with epithets like “sissy” and innuendo from various family members that he somehow needed to develop more manliness.
The performance would have impressed even without Rachel Myers' artful, eye-catching set design, but having it there lends down-home context to the story. Designer Derrick McDaniel’s lighting is likewise nuanced and enhancing, while the musical interludes effected by guitarist and music arranger Arturo Lopez add another lovely thread to this profound, poetic yarn.
GO! VS. Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; through July 15; (323) 739-4411, brownpapertickets.com/event/2951780.