BUREAU OF ARTS AND CULTURE MAGAZINE THE BAY AREA: THEATER SECTION
THEATER PRODUCER INTERVIEWS :
PRODUCING : " We produced Huey P.Newton with Roger Guenevere Smith for PBS Television and won the Peabody Award. It was a convergence of all his talents. Roger is a prolific artist. One of the things that he Does that I love is, he creates and he creates non stop and he does it in his own unique, artistic way. It's compelling, it's provocative, it's theatrical."
BUREAU THEATER REVIEW:JUAN and JOHN
Written & Performed by ROGER GUENVEUR SMITH
at The Los Angeles
Theater Center 514 S. Spring St. L.A. CA 90013
Review by Joshua A. TRILIEGI
In the Summer of 1965, a fight between two men on a baseball
field symbolized a planet in turmoil. A world grappling with War,
Racism and divisive Cultures. The Watts riots, the invasion of the Dominican Republic, and the brawl at Candlestick Park as well
as biographical points in Roger Guenveur Smith's life collide to
create a quilt of ideas in this one person Theater work currently
playing at LATC.
The sounds of baseball crowds and the Beach Boys are the
backdrop for this scenario and memory plays a key roll in
all of this. Mr Smith confesses early on, " I have a war
inside my head / Yo tengo un guerra en mi cabesa " . So
does society & life is the cost. We learn about Baseball, as well as Mr Smith' s look back at childhood, the summer
of '65 and the way in which black & brown politics has
completely devastated both groups to a degree that has
hurt both African Americans, Latin Americans and Sports
in general. How a war, a riot, race and competitive sports
boil into a young man's mind to create a fever dream that
evolves into a sort of Jeckyl & Hide experience which
starts and ends withhim burning a baseball card while the
radio D J' s repeat the mantra, " Burn Baby Burn ".
Roger flashes forward and back between his own experience as a spectator and his personification of both John Roseboro, the African American Catcher for the L.A. Dodgers and Juan Marichal the Dominican - born San Francisco Giants' Pitcher. So you have young
Roger, the baseball fan whom knows nothing of Malcolm X and very little of Martin Luther King, the adult Roger whom is going through a separation of his own which is estranging to his daughter Luna.
You have John played with accents and body language and Juan, also
played via accent and rhythmic interpretation. Roger shifts from each time and place at will, allowing us little time to catch up, he's
pitching fast and hard here. " Hey batter, batter , batter, hey batter,
Swing ! " Employing images of grade school photos, postcards from his
parents real life Motel, baseball imagery as well as war photographs of
the period sets the tone of this whirlwind experience and resolution of the initial event which took some 20 or so years to finally resolve. For some it may never be resolved, for Juan and John it was resolved
in the early nineteen eighties. Setting the backdrop for this skirmish,
Roger shares his own family's journey, commenting on the neighborhood
of Baldwin Hills where many of the streets begin with the prefix : Don. " My mom lives on the corner of Don Cornelious and
Don King ". Roger
has you laughing even when the streets are on fire.
Mr Smith's catholic childhood as well as his daughter's passing interest of both this religion and the musical artist, Peaches are brought to the fore in humorous vignettes that reveal life in all its unresolved details. Walter O' Malley, Chavez Ravine, Dodger History and Sandy Kofax' s career highlights careen into a pastiche or gumbo of sorts that Roger serves up spicy and in abundance. Apparently Kofax sat out for Yom Kippur that season. Four months earlier, troops are on the ground in Vietnam, while Martin Luther King states , " I strongly deplore the violence and equally deplore the war in Vietnam ". Both Juan and John have been oriented as soldiers. Roger tells us of brave men in the sixties whom went to Washington D.C and self immolated ( burned themselves)
for peace, while he went to Washington DC ( years later) to star in films for
HBO, a kind of self depreciating biographical comparison that explains how
different we all seem to be when compared to the heady and political heroes
we often claim to emulate today. Hinting that Nobel Peace prizes are for
those whom stop war.
The actual event between Juan and John is central and secondary to this overall
arching story. It all started when Dodger's Catcher John Roseboro nicked Juan
Marichal while throwing the ball back to his pitcher Sandy Kofax. In response,
Juan struck John Roseboro with a baseball bat. Both teams entered the field
and a full on baseball ' riot ' took place. Marichal was suspended for 9 games,
fined & later ignored for years by the baseball Hall of Fame. Surprisingly, and as a testament to forgiveness, friendship and the human ability to make positive changes with our history, Roseboro visits Marichal some twenty years later in the Dominican Republic and resets the perceptions of this divisive period in our culture. The two men, their families and countries use this meeting as a symbol of forgiveness and transcendence of the past. A remarkable fact indeed. But not before we experience Roger's hilarious upbringing here in L.A. with
moments in his parents Motel where Martin Luther King forgot to pay the bill, his mother dresses him as a saint and Bishop's are quick to slap him around.
Personifying Roseboro, he tells us about his training with Roy Campanella, his Boy Scout experience as the only black kid in Ashland, Ohio and the phone
calls which led to he and Marichal moving ahead from this incident.
we learn that these two men had much more in common than either may have
understood at the time and both were manipulated by an atmosphere of machismo,
competition and self hatred. Later, each man autographed photos of that day. Meanwhile, grown up Roger is separating with the mother of his daughter Luna,
watching the modern day Dodgers deflect another recent violent event where
two men are accused of attacking a fan of the San Francisco Giants on opening
day at Dodger Stadium and resolving these issues through dialogue. By the time
this show is over, we have witnessed a split personality ( Latin / African) fused into one. Juan and John become friends, Roger' s daughter forgives him and we
realize that everyday events like this one, large and small do effects us all.
Wars, headlines, public events and personal stories have a way of prejudicing
our views of things, ultimately hurting us, hurting others and hurting children
in the balance.
Young Roger burns his Base Ball Cards in 1965, while an adult
Roger watches his city burn to the ground, for a second time, for a whole other
reason, although this fact is only intimated, as the play ends Roger takes out a match and lights it. We get the sense that there will be more fires in the future. But for now, this chapter is resolved. What will society throw at us next time ? Will we be manipulated ? This work of history, personal and public gives us
something to think about regarding race, sports, politics and healing through
forgiveness. It speaks directly to the aftermath of such events. Mr. Juan Marichal
plans to attend the final matinee performance of this show in person, that says a lot.
Marc Anthony Thompson provides imagery and musical aspects and co - director
Patricia Mc Gregor both assist in creating a cohesive experience which is both
educational & enlightening. For those unaware of Mr Smith's body of work, Roger is a Spike Lee regular, a student of the Yale School of Drama, he is currently teaching at Cal Arts and has worked with a number of Award winning Film Directors.
He received an Obie for his Huey P. Newton Show which was later made into a telefilm
on PBS. There is a discounted entry fee of ten dollars on Thursday evenings at LATC . This Play was originally a workshop Production - Joseph Papp Public Theater in 2009.
It sold out performances at the West Coast Premiere - Kirk Douglas Theater in 2011. www.TheLATC.org (866)811-4111 514 S. Spring St. L.A. CA 90013 (between 5th & 6th)
BUREAU THEATER REVIEW:
JANE FONDA in the COURT of PUBLIC OPINION
Written & Directed by Terry Jastrow
Review by Joshua TRILIEGI
Jane Fonda has been on trial for decades ( by public opinion) ever since standing up for peace against the Vietnam War. Writer & Director Terry Jastrow has crafted an interesting document which describes the events that led up to Jane Fonda' s involvement in the Peace movement of that incredibly divisive era in our History.As well as a look back at that period via her confrontation with a group of Veterans during a film shoot in Connecticut , June of 1988.Mr Jastrow interviewed Ms Fonda as well as the veterans of this real life meeting and travelled to Vietnam, even stayed at the same Hotel. The set is St. Michael's Episcopal Church.
A giant television set towers above the players which conveniently displays actual television newscasts and raw footage of this the first televised war, maybe even the last one as well. The Play is not only a history lesson, but also a cautionary tale.It could be titled, " Six Angry Men Vs. Jane Fonda " with the pastor of this church as the reluctant referee. Early on, Anne Archer as Jane exclaims, " I am an American, just as much as any of you ". Sentiments that the peace movement to this day seems to repeat to those on the front lines of war, making this a very relevant conversation and an engaging work of Theater. Through the TV, President Johnson tirades in his trademark Texas drawl that, " We wage a War on Tyranny and Aggression " . Sound familiar ? The parallels of repeating history are startling to anyone paying attention. Hollow statements that make no sense are echoed. The very act of war and aggression are tyranny ultimately, and Vietnam is the worst example. Jane works her explanations slow and deliberate while the soldiers spew expletives that would make any other Lady of society wilt in comparison. Understandably, these soldiers feel betrayed by the stances of Fonda and her peace-nik pals which included Tom Hayden. Jane : We shouldn't have been there. Soldier : Oh, Fuck you.
Many of the rumors, lies and outright propaganda of the sixties and seventies have been solidified into exacting hate and vitriol by the time ' Hanoi Jane' is filming in their state, here in 1988 during the height of the Regan era in America. Wearing pink toe nail polish and blouse to match, Ms. Fonda attempts to dismantle these opinions as she explains herself one event at a time, starting with the draft ( 500 servicemen deserted daily ) and leading up to Nixon's escalation of the war and the tragedy's and deaths at Kent State University and on into her famous speech in Washington D.C. and finally her appearance and photo session while visiting Vietnam on top of Vietcong weaponry that was used against our own troops. We see how this articulate and concerned young actress is used as an agitprop and demonized by the press on both sides of the war. To the point where her own father ( whom served in World War II ) receives death threats. When he requests that the FBI assist the family, Jane' s reply is one in which she views her famous father Henry being duped by the Feds: at this point, no one is trusted wholeheartedly. We learn through Jane' s confrontation's with the six soldiers, five from 'Nam and one a World War II vet that, " 70% of US Citizens were against the war in Vietnam ". By the time Jane goes to Washington DC, she is backed by 100,000 marchers for peace and has already toured the U.S. researching how people feel about this extremely unpopular war.
By the end of act I, the vets are fighting among themselves. Real life vets are shown on TV expressing their jaded acts of war.We are shown footage of shootings, devastation and several presidents exclaiming absurd strategies. The cast of players understand that Jane is in a pressure cooker and the soldiers are suppliers of this steam, although she loses several pounds in this atmosphere, we never quite see her sweat. She has already been through the events of this era and is here to put the record straight. This is a wiser Jane having fallen long ago. Our referee/ pastor is reluctant to break up the rounds, leaving Jane on the ropes throughout. There are strong performances by everyone in this ensemble. Anne Archer's performance is solid, reserved and delicate, in that she does not mimic, impersonate or affect to be Jane Fonda as much as personify a professional woman under pressure to explain herself, her views and ultimately apologize for some of the mistakes, missteps and misgivings that were used against her then and for some, to this day. Which makes this play even more needed and full of tension than it might otherwise be. With two wars and a questionable policy on wire taps, harassment and surveillance of private as well as public persons whom have stood up against these wars : Tim Robbins for instance. This is a piece which could mean quite a lot to us as Americans at this time. One thinks of the Frost / Nixon work that was later made into a film as an example. There is a lot to write about here as this is an extremely well researched work of Theater. All puns intended.
War is often described as ' theater ' , a grossly inaccurate understatement that has always seemed to me a weak way of belittling the consequences. To the soldiers credit, whom begin to slowly cool out by quoting John Lennon and Shakespeare, ultimately they too see Jane's view and although this is no love letter, it is a kind of reconciliation . Somehow Jane is able to prove that she too was on the front lines, stood up for something and indeed also payed a mean price for doing so. We see as an audience that fighting for peace is just as brave, dangerous and damaging as fighting for war. Who knew we all had so much in common ? Not every soldier agrees while Jane exclaims the famous Gandhi statement that, " An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind ". Though, near the end of this energetic and thoughtful, heartfelt play, the World War II Veteran, played here by Terrence Beasor makes the definitive tough guy statement which sums up their view of Jane after this tumultuous meeting, " Jane, You've got some balls , Lady ". After viewing this work of finely crafted Theater, we agree whole heartedly. The final line of any play has always interested me, in this case, it says it all : " We all just moved on ". Spending 600 Billion Dollars on a war only to ' move on ' is a tragedy. It is a good thing that Terry Jastrow, his cast and crew as well as the brave programmers at Edgemar Center for the Arts, including Michelle Danner, their Artistic Director have not moved on. This is a great look back at a controversial era that to this day haunts us. We highly suggest this play which runs a limited engagement throughout November and early December of this year. Anne Archer has been nominated for an Academy Award and Terry Jastrow has received seven Emmy Awards. James Giordano gives an especially jolted performance as one of the six soldiers as does Don Swayze whose rage and frustration eventually flow into something new. Chris Stone has designed an inspired set that is symbolic of the very war machine we all live in to this very day.
BUREAU of ARTS and CULTURE All Rights Reserved International Intellectual Copyrights Apply Los Angeles CALIF USA
PITY The PROUD ONES
Directed by Ben GUILLORY
at Robey Theater Company / LATC
Pity the Proud Ones