SPLEEN (Johnny Smith): SoLow review

Johnny Smith in SPLEEN (Photo credit: Courtesy of the Artist)

Johnny Smith in SPLEEN (Photo credit: Courtesy of the Artist)

The ever-endearing Johnny Smith vents his comic vitriol and humorous ill humor in SPLEEN, a 30-minute workshop performance–first suggested to him by David Blatt and created in collaboration with Sam Sherburne (who also lends technical assistance)–in this year’s SoLow Fest. Revisiting the intimate theme of his 2013 SoLow show (My Last Trip to Nowhere-land: An Autobiographical Dark Comedy), Smith reveals the conflicting aspects of his personality in his outwardly funny but internally anguished reactions to the damage done to his body and psyche by a car crash that left him physically and emotionally scarred, his spleen removed, and his injured spine causing him chronic discomfort.

Employing a clever play on the alternate definitions of the words spleen (rancor) and spine (showing strength and backbone), Smith’s self-exploration is further manifested in his hilarious alter-ego Spleeny–the internal organ he no longer has, portrayed as an angry foul-mouthed spleen-shaped puppet (designed by Mark Segal and worked with spirit by J Hernandez) and in the old man he will become. Despite his compromised immune system and spinal pain, the aged Smith (who, in reality, is just around 30) survives the trauma of decades earlier to reminisce about the old days and the devastating accident, expressing both his regrets and his realization that, contrary to the video games of the past, “there’s no reset button in life.”

Unlike his 2013 piece, which focused on a chronological delivery of his story (interspersed with a few fantasy visits from a fictional Superhero played by Sherburne), this new work is non-linear, with an existentialist tone and an expressionist style. But throughout the passages of wrath, comedy, and absurdity, Smith’s irresistible vulnerability shines through; the audience can’t help but be captivated and touched by his very personal soul-searching. [5th & Mifflin] June 24-28, 2015; solowfest.com/2015-shows.

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.