Center Theatre Group for the first time on one of its main stages has created a festival of one-person shows. Solomania! offers four works running in repertory, including two enthralling plays dealing with towers: one written and performed by Adriana Sevan, the other by Roger Guenveur Smith.
Sevan's Taking Flight, directed by Giovanna Sardelli, deals with a friendship severely tested by the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Its message of passion and courage was punctuated opening night when Sevan injured her knee halfway through the performance. In pain and unable to walk, she continued 30 minutes later, after paramedics wrapped her knee. The lack of motion for the second half in no way lessened the play's emotional power, and it further proved that Sevan is a remarkable actor and storyteller, able to convey a great deal through her voice and facial expressions. The story recounts the near-fatal injury of Sevan's best friend near Ground Zero and her yearlong recovery, during which Sevan visited her regularly. Sevan flows seamlessly between portraying herself and her friend, who has a heavy Long Island accent. She also adds to the mix a Latina spirit named Esperanza-Spanish for "hope." Sevan's strong charisma and her ability to keep the pace fast without feeling rushed are impressive. The tightly written script is honest and unafraid to jump radically from dark moments to humorous ones. After the performance, Kirk Douglas came onstage and praised her talent and her bravery. And he was right on both accounts.
The Watts Towers Project is much like a theatrical version of the famous Los Angeles landmark. Smith uses poetry, song, intimate storytelling, and bold preaching to tell disparate but connected anecdotes that create a wonderfully eclectic piece. Smith's performance, enhanced by strong visual effects, is captivating, and his writing is richly layered. He ponders why Italian immigrant Simon Rodia spent 33 years constructing the Watts Towers, only to walk away from it in 1954 and never return. He draws parallels between Rodia and other misunderstood artists, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat. Smith also looks into his own life and its interactions with the towers. The script at first seems random and stream-of-consciousness. But each story fits into the whole, eventually coming into focus, much like the towers' series of projected images, which move from fuzzy to clear. A veteran actor, Smith displays his equally remarkable skills as a singer and a rapper. Whatever mode of communication he uses, his intensity never wavers.
Both plays ultimately are about not giving up. They are unsettling but uplifting celebrations of life. And they are examples of how good one-person shows can be.
Presented by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Repertory schedule. May 14-Jun. 11. (213) 628-2772.