“Smote This” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Smote This,
A Comedy About God …and Other Serious $H*T

Created and performed by Rodney Gardiner
Directed by Raz Golden

Ashland, OR at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival March 22 – May 12, 2024

SMOTE This masthead


This one-person show by OSF veteran Rodney Gardiner is intense, personal, real, and not to be missed (and like all of the one-person shows the run is too short, so go now).

I am struggling to figure out which level of the show I should tell about. On the top-level, the physical story starts out with Rodney at his father’s funeral which leads to a discussion of his family and how he came to the United States. That leads to dealing with his father’s long-term health issues, his mother’s life and how she parented. We learn about isolated events in young Rodney’s life, the “miracles” that touch him, and eventually his life with a wife and two Blewish children.

This show is billed as a comedy, and Rodney has very witty, fun lines. He is physically humorous, energetic, and a happy ball of energy on stage.

Except the jokey story is actually about the struggle of undocumented refugees living in a poor community among drug dealers and other distractions. The family has issues, and we spend a lot of time giggling at the “funny” lines about things like his father dying alone under the photograph of a blond white Jesus. Or, about how as a child he woke up from a dream because his mother started beating him and his two brothers while they were sound asleep in bed. Very funny scene, except …

Rodney Gardier in Smote This

Rodney Gardier in Smote This. Photo by Jenny Graham

The first time I saw the show I was very bothered by all the humor. I guess the second time I knew what was coming, and Rodney is a great comic. But, still, we are laughing at awful stuff.

Throughout the show there is a genuine tension between the organized religion Rodney’s been taught and the spirituality of his community and family. “What to believe” is a central issue which strengthens the story, but really isn’t reinforced as the dilemma to consider when seeing the performance.

This new show was a great 50 minutes. And like many new works of art, we spent a lot of time afterwards reflecting and considering how we would improve it. For one thing, we didn’t like “Smote This…” as a title. I object mainly because I am not sure Rodney comes down on the side smiting anything, certainly he’s not throwing away all of the religion he’s been exposed to.

A lot of the humor and emphasis compares feeling-rich, family-rich, religious-rich Black Caribbean community with the dominant white world. His perspective is revelatory and sharp. But, his struggles with what to believe, family, and religion are more widespread. When he rewrites the show for its second incarnation (not planned, that I know of), I hope he projects his personal experiences into a more universal dilemma. His perspective and insight are spectacular, but his observations apply to a wider scope of experiences.

Thank you, Rodney, for sharing so much of your background and life. Thank you for sharing your comedic talent. Now, let’s figure out how to get me released from my guilt at laughing at tragedy and also make your pointed themes apply more broadly.

This excellent performace rates Rating: 4 and 1/2 Syntaxes out of 5

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