With the events of Ferguson, Missouri as an unspoken backdrop, Playmakers Repertory Company this week is staging “Rodney King,” a one-man show written and performed by Roger Guenveur Smith.
Smith is a distinguished actor whose credits include “American Gangster,” the TV series “K Street” and “Oz,” and numerous Spike Lee films including “Do The Right Thing” – another exploration of simmering racial tensions that bubble over in response to an act of police brutality. He’s also written a variety of theatrical pieces about American and world historical figures, including Huey Newton, Frederick Douglass, and Bob Marley. He began working on “Rodney King” on Father’s Day 2012, he says – the day King drowned in his backyard pool.
Set on an almost-bare stage – Smith is alone with nothing but a microphone, standing on a stark-white square – “King” is a poetic examination of King’s life, moving backward and forward in time but ultimately revolving around three days, from April 29 to May 1, 1992. It was on May 1 that Rodney King delivered his famous “Can we all get along?” speech, in an attempt to quell the riots that broke out two days before in response to the acquittal of the officers who’d beaten him the previous year. (The play ends with Smith faithfully – and tearfully – reciting King’s speech, hesitant pauses and all.)
“Rodney King” runs at Playmakers through Sunday, September 7, with performances every evening at 7:30 and a Sunday matinee at 2:00. (There is no Saturday performance because of the UNC football game.) The play itself is a little more than an hour with no intermission; after each performance, there will be an audience discussion with Smith and a special guest moderator.
For tickets, visit PlayMakersRep.org.
Roger Guenveur Smith joined Aaron Keck on WCHL Wednesday to discuss “Rodney King” and to perform a piece from the play.