Plenty of actors have stories to tell, and plenty of those may be as solo-show-ready as Giovanni Adams’ tale of growing up black and “sissy” in Jackson, Mississippi, but few end up as exquisitely written, stunningly performed, and strikingly designed as the Yale University grad’s World Premiere Love Is A Dirty Word.

Adams, whose stage credits include his 2014 Scenie-winning star turn in IAMA Theatre Company’s The Recommendation and last fall’s homeless teen in the Geffen Playhouse’s The Model Apartment, takes us on a journey from his four-year-old self (enjoying the pure happiness of a bath with the “Trouble Man” daddy he adored) to the adult he is today, backed along the way by guitarist-arranger Arturo Lopez, who both underscores Adams’ reminiscences and accompanies the silky-voiced solo star’s haunting original songs “Where Is The Love,” “Forget You,” and “Vulture.”

Adams’ father may have bequeathed his son the intelligence of the high school valedictorian he was, but Daddy also left wife and child high and dry on his way to incarceration and an early demise.

Fortunately for young Giovanni, Momma was a forward-thinking, independent lady, and if the safe-sex paraphernalia she brought home from the teen parenting program she ran wasn’t exactly appropriate for an eight-year-old boy, she was more than capable of motherhood on her own.

The memories Adams brings back to life over the course of his beguiling seventy-five minute autobioplay range from those of a Mississippi country boy breaking open butter pecans fallen from creekside trees to an 8th-grade summer spent at an Iowa State University youth enrichment program where his intelligent young brain got challenged and his heart got stolen by “a fine chocolate sister” from Virginia.

Reassuring as this news might have been for a boy whose grandma feared her grandbaby’s interests (easy bake ovens and ballet) weren’t pointed “in the direction of the opposite sex,” Gio’s shame-inducing first sexual experience with a teenage boy twice his age left him with a message he carried within for years afterward.

You are too dirty to love.

Fortunately for both Adams and his audience, there is much more to Love Is A Dirty Word than childhood sexual abuse, and it is the writer-actor’s gradual self-acceptance and the powerful, poetic language he uses to describe it that make his solo performance worth seeing above all the rest.

It helps that Adams is as boyishly charming as young actors get. It helps that each supporting character is given his or her own voice and body language. It helps that Adams is as terrific a singer-songwriter as he is an actor. And it helps that he digs fearlessly deep into his own pain and longing.

Aiding Adams every step of the way is director Becca Wolff, who makes imaginative use of every inch of the VS. Theatre Company stage, one that scenic designer Rachel Myers has transformed into the living room-bedroom-bath-front yard where Adams’ story is set and filled with Geri Wolff’s pitch-perfect props (from a vinyl-spinning portable stereo to fresh pecan fruit), all of the above evocatively lit by Derrick McDaniel, with sound designer Niki Armato providing appropriate effects along the way (and making us believe that Marvin and Aretha are wafting directly from the onstage turntable).

Lopez’s guitar mastery and charm add to the stage magic. Melissa Trn is costume consultant. Armato is stage manager. Lenny Wolff is technical director.

Arriving just in time for Pride Month 2017, Love Is A Dirty Word celebrates one man’s coming of age, coming out, and coming alive as his own true self, and does so with a mix of power, originality, and gut-punching depth.

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VS. Theatre, 5453 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
June 22, 2017
Photos: Aaron Epstein


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