Roger Guenveur Smith has created a language as an actor and performer that easily differentiates his solo shows from others. When he's on target -- and he certainly is with this 65-minute work that premiered in New York in October -- Smith offers such layered text and visuals that it would require multiple viewings to digest everything. An accomplished screen and stage character actor, he is equally captivating in his persona as poet and storyteller. Who Killed Bob Marley? not only gives insight into Smith's personal life but it also provides thoughtful commentary about Rastafarian culture, the bond between father and son, and the blending of fact and fiction in the artistic realm.
The show's title doesn't refer to the conspiracy theories about the death of Bob Marley, Jamaica's most influential artist. Marley serves more as a subtext for a personal journey Smith takes. Standing barefoot and dressed in black, Smith is accompanied only by Marc Anthony Thompson's score and a continuous series of film clips and stills from cinematographer Arthur Jafa. Moving seamlessly from a conversational style to poetry and snippets of songs, Smith weaves a series of anecdotes around film clips from an unrealized film he and Jafa shot in Jamaica about a suicidal American poet who performs at the island country's 2005 Calabash International Literary Festival. The film clips are edited together with home movies and snapshots, mostly of Smith and his father. Much of the text deals with their relationship, but there are many topics covered, including the drowning deaths of several prominent artists.
The material mirrors stream of consciousness, but it's clear how carefully Smith chooses each word. His rhyme schemes and double-meaning phrases are fascinating. His honest performance (he is self-directed) keeps the action from becoming jarring or unbelievable when he shifts instantly from joyous and funny observations to heartbreaking ones. His slow-motion movements and dramatic range in vocal inflections and accents, along with the visual backgrounds, make this much more than a one-person performance. It's a living work of original art that Smith fully invites the audience to enter.
Presented by and at the Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A. Fri.-Sun. 8 p.m. Apr. 14-29. (213) 389-3856. www.bootlegtheater.com.