‘Juan and John’ opening crowd includes John Roseboro’s widow
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While the eternal Dodgers-Giants rivalry continued at Chavez Ravine Thursday night (alas, a 3-1 Dodgers loss), the implications of that decades-long clash played out 12 miles away on a stage in Culver City, where Roger Guenveur Smith’s ‘Juan and John’ opened at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
The one-man play, which Smith wrote and stars in, explores his own Los Angeles upbringing and subsequent life as well as current events since the mid 1960s.
Smith roots the piece in an indelible incident in the life of the Dodgers-Giants conflict-- when Giants pitcher Juan Marichal took a bat and attacked Dodgers catcher John Roseboro during a 1965 game in San Francisco.
For some in the opening-night audience, Smith’s portrayal of the event and his personifications of Marichal and Roseboro, as well as the ultimate real-life reconciliation between the two, had special resonance.
Roseboro’s widow, Barbara Fouch-Roseboro, was seeing Smith’s performance for the first time. She came away struck by the playwright and actor’s ability to channel facets of her husband.
“Roger got John’s laissez-faire qualities, plus his laid-back nature so well,” she said in the lobby after the 90-minute, one-act play’s conclusion.
“John was more than an athlete, he also prospered after baseball in the business we had together. But he was also in poor health for those 14 last years and I was preoccupied with living with the ups and downs... so seeing some of these things onstage was, for me, like experiencing some of them with fresh eyes.”
“Sweet” Lou Johnson was a Dodgers outfielder from 1965 to 1967 and he was in left field at Candlestick Park the day of the Marichal-Roseboro incident. Last year, in a program on the MLB Network about the event, Johnson admitted that he was so enraged when Marichal clubbed Roseboro that he charged in from left field with blood in his eye for any Giants player he could find: “I was swinging at anything in a white uniform!”
“You have to understand,” Johnson said Thursday night. “We were used to fights on the field, things happen. But for someone to hit another player with a bat -- that never happened.”
Johnson came up through the minor leagues playing against and knowing Marichal. He also commuted to Dodgers Stadium from home each day during the season with Roseboro.
“The man on that stage [Smith], he had Marichal’s voice down. And John, he was a serious person, but with a dry sense of humor… I feel the play has their natures.”
Mark Langill, official Dodgers historian for the past nine years who has written four books about the team, came away impressed at Smith’s abilities to capture key and personal events.
“At Roseboro’s funeral [in 2002], Marichal came to the podium to speak and he just stood up there … 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds going by as he gathered himself. It was so powerful a moment; here Smith’s captured Marichal’s regret of all that happened between them.”
Also at the opening were Al “The Bull” Ferrara, a stalwart of the Dodgers’ ‘60s lineups; Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza of the L.A. theater group Culture Clash (their piece “Chavez Ravine” focused on the controversial beginnings of Dodger Stadium); and actor Robert Wuhl, a veteran of the 1988 movie ‘Bull Durham’ and ‘Arli$$,’ the HBO series about a sports agent. Wuhl currently hosts a radio sports and entertainment talk show.
“Juan and John” continues through May 29.
-- Christopher Smith
Photos from top: Barbara Fouch-Roseboro (widow of John Roseboro) and Roger Guenveur Smith pose during the party for the opening night performance of Smith’s ‘Juan and John’ at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre; ‘Sweet’ Lou Johnson; and Culture Clash members Ric Salinas, left, and Herbert Siguenza. Credit: Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging