The men referred to in the title are the Dominican-born Juan Marichal, who pitched for the San Francisco Giants, and John Roseboro, a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. On August 22, 1965, as avid Dodgers fan Smith, age 6 (nicknamed Roger Dodger), watched a game on television, Marichal and Roseboro got into an altercation. Marichal slammed Roseboro on the head with a bat, and a riot ensued. Smith confides that he was so furious over this attack that he pulled Marichal's card out of his collection and ignited it, shouting, "Burn, baby, burn!"
Flash forward to L.A.'s Watts riots that broke out the same month, as Smith relates the baseball-field brawl to nationwide racial tensions. Projected images of President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War conjure additional ruminations on horrific violence. Meanwhile, Smith looks at turbulent times in our nation alongside his familial ups and downs. The details that Smith provides in veering from topic to topic sometimes feel tangential, and the focus intermittently falters. Yet his easygoing charm and the disarmingly spontaneous feel of his text and delivery smooth out the lapses. Associate director Patricia McGregor helps keep the proceedings engaging.
The piece is at its best when Smith plays the two titular characters, providing distinct vocal and physical traits for each. As the play moves toward the eventual making of peace between the men, the path that Smith's life has taken becomes more resonant and affecting. Marvelously evocative designs by Marc Anthony Thompson (sound and video), Justin Townsend (lighting), and Candice Cain (costumes) capture the feel of swiftly changing times in America, providing a fine contextual framework for Smith's life-affirming tale of forgiveness, personal growth, and hope.
Presented by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. May 19–29. Tue.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m. (213) 628-2772. www.centertheatregroup.org.