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'Juan and John' Meet Again At The Kirk Douglas

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Dodger diehard Roger Guenveur Smith prepares to torch San Francisco Giant Hall of Famer Juan Marichal's baseball card.
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On their way to winning the 1965 World Series, the Dodgers of Chavez Ravine clashed with the despised San Francisco Giants in Major League Baseball's most legendary bench-clearing brawl after Giants ace Juan Marichal brought his bat down on the head of Dodgers catcher John Roseboro.

Watching live on a black and white TV that night as (what looked like) Dodger blue blood poured from his favorite player's unprotected pate, 10-year-old Roger Guenveur Smith took personal revenge by burning Marichal's baseball card. That same month, Smith also stood under the awning of the motel his father owned in Watts and watched as rioters set the neighborhood on fire.

In his very entertaining one-man show "Juan and John," now running at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, Smith links the events of that summer and their aftermath to his own personal history. Though these connections are sometimes a bit forced (Sandy Koufax sat out the first World Series game because it was played on Yom Kippur and Smith visited his daughter's grade school classroom the day they learned about Yom Kippur), Smith's performance is so consistently engrossing and often even exciting that it's always fun to follow along.

The centerpiece of the evening is Smith's alternating character assumption of Marichal and Roseboro themselves. Some years after their impromptu fight, the two players not only forgave each other, but became close friends. And as Smith contemplates the challenges Marichal had to overcome growing up in the Dominican Republic and then entering the just recently desegregated Major Leagues, he summons up the same kind of forgiveness that he asks his daughter to grant him for his own fatherly flaws.

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Although "Juan and John" was first produced two years ago at the Public Theater in New York, the show seems absolutely made for Los Angeles. (I doubt, for instance, that Smith called on his East Village audience to shout out the names of the '65 Dodgers' starting lineup, position by position, as he does now.) Most of the events that Smith recounts take place here, and the actor clearly relishes the opportunity to share his own LA story back in his real home town. Intensely moving, but never sentimental, "Juan and John" offers a low-key personal and political history lesson that, even when it meanders, always rings true. Certainly no Dodgers fan should miss it.

"Juan and John" plays every day except Monday through May 29, with two performances today and next Saturday. Tickets $27.50 through the Center Theater Group web site, $16.50 on goldstar.