Malcolm-Jamal Warner takes his one-man show
Love & Other Social Issues from good to verse
Whatever happened to Malcolm-Jamal Warner? You know the kid who played ultra-likable teenager Theo Huxtable on the long-running Bill Cosby comedy The Cosby Show.
Warner is still likable. But at age 36, he’s a grown man with a lot on his mind, and he has found the perfect format to get everything off his chest. His one-man show Love & Other Social Issues has him on stage letting his inner-most feelings ebb and flow before receptive audiences at the Assistance League Playhouse in Hollywood (through July 8).
What makes his show a mesmerizing evening is not just the heady subjects that he chooses to talk about, but how he puts his deepest thoughts in verse, like Shakespearean soliloquies. Yes, he’s that good.
How did this former child actor grow up so well adjusted? Warner admits he learned much of life and life’s lessons “from Mr. Cosby,” as he always respectfully calls the TV icon. But he’s quick to credit his mother and manager Pamela Warner, who is the producer of his stage show.
“Actually, the show was her idea. She kept at me about doing more with my poetry” Warner reveals. Malcolm has been part of the spoken word poetry scene in Los Angeles since the early 1990s. But during the ’90s he was involved with directing and other projects, including the series Malcolm & Eddie. Then along came the Showtime sci-fi drama Jeremiah that showed he had a gritty side.
In 2004 he was back to the sitcom world in Listen Up with Jason Alexander. But before that, Warner’s mother finally got through to him. “She was right, I had written some good stuff,” he admits. “I love poetry, but I was intimidated by turning it into something so grand. That’s when [director] Denise Dowse helped shape it into a very accessible stage presentation.”
Love & Other Social Issues premiered at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 2003. “And we were invited back two years later. The show evolved as I got older. I look back at a tape of the first show and I see how much I have grown with the process.”
The grown-up material deals with his life, and his unique insight into many complicated issues of our time.
For Love & Other Social Issues, the actor takes the stage as a lone figure, with a great jazz-funk musical group off to the side of the stage providing interludes that enhance Warner’s monologues.
Warner moves around the stage, and even goes off-stage, wandering into the audience to seek out a female partner for one telling number. Carefully orchestrated, there is a reason behind every move, so beautifully directed by the award-winning Dowse.
Rambling on in poetic rhythm, Warner dwells on inner-city life, complete with truisms and cogent observations. He reflects on his own self esteem, yet it is all universal, and an understanding audience responds with appropriate applause, knowing he speaks the truth about Blacks selling dope and dopey images. “Which is worse?” he asks.
He lovingly speaks of matters of the heart, flings of the past and reflections of modern romances. He touches on a touchy subject, single parents and absent fathers. And he condemns the existing rap culture for the hypocritical “lies” they tell.
With Shakespearean overtones, he delves into the ever-constant changes in life, and he begs and pleads for love, loyalty and respect for one’s self, and for others. Heart-wrenching, and thought-provoking, he still manages to elicit humor interspersing with the drama he is unfolding. And Warner has the chops to bring it all into focus.
It is a different stance for the performer, who also heads his own Miles Long jazz group, which plays the clubs around L.A.
In his ever-growing stature as an actor-director-musician-poet, Warner has learned how to grab and hold an audience, and he has the mien and personality to grasp them in his hand and keep them there.
It is a formidable performance, his show on life and love, and social issues that need to be in the spotlight. All the emotions are there – laid out bare for all to see and hear. But its run concludes July 8. After that, one may have to travel elsewhere to catch it, since Warner hopes to tour with the show.