Roger Guenveur Smith does not offer any conspiracy theories about the death of reggae legend Bob Marley in his unfocused one-person multimedia stage piece. “Who Killed Bob Marley?” takes its title from the Arthur Jafa film that featured Smith portraying a suicidal poet, filmed in Jamaica. Combining Smith’s surrealistic spoken-word narrative, music (Marc Anthony Thompson) and video (Jafa), legiter attempts to engage the audience in a very personal journey that meanders through myriad autobiographical memories and thoughts. What the production lacks is the shaping skill of an objective helmer.
Dressed in black and barefoot, Smith moves sinuously about a bare stage, offering slivers of recollections that focus on his father, his brief encounters with Marley, the woman who played his love interest in the Jafa film, his youthful traumas and the hypnotic power of water.
“Who Killed Bob Marley?” lacks the intense clarity and focus that made his previous works (“A Huey P. Newton Story,” “Frederick Douglass Now”) so memorable.
Constantly time shifting, Smith flows over subject matter with no concern about chronology, spurred on by the pulsating rhythms of Thompson’s score. As if to clarify Smith’s rudderless text, Jafa’s video images offer a collage of visuals that include home movies from Smith’s childhood, including trips to Jamaica with his father, and clips from Jafa’s film that features Smith’s film alter ego and his co-star.
Within the onslaught of semi-fulfilled themes, Smith does project engaging charisma and wit, revealing his own insecurities as a young artist, his hilarious but near-deadly encounter with Rastafarians after asking them to lower the volume of their music and his reverential meetings with August Wilson and Marley. Smith assumes a demeanor of hypnotic fascination at his own words when relating his near drowning in the waters off Jamaica.
His adoration of his father, a successful lawyer and judge, dominates throughout, and Smith insinuates tantalizing comparisons between himself and the man he feels shaped much of his psyche. He riffs thoughts to himself more than to the audience, calculating what he has assumed from his father and what is his true individual identity.