Roger Guenveur Smith just wants his audience to listen.
In his one-man show, “Rodney King,” which he is set to perform at PlayMakers Repertory Company for the first time tonight, Smith plays the historical figure Rodney King, an African-American man who sparked riots in Los Angeles after videos surfaced of him being subjected police brutality.
King’s lawyers did not let him testify during trial, and three police officers charged with the use of excessive force were acquitted in April of 1992.
“It’s a story that’s worth telling,” Smith said. “This is a man who was brain damaged, who was struck numerous times. He had been silenced for the entire trial, and then the city exploded in his name.”
Joseph Haj, producing artistic director of PlayMakers, said recent events in Ferguson, MO and other accounts of police brutality make “Rodney King” very timely.
“None of these are isolated incidents,” he said. “They’ve been happening for decades, and I think the recent events in Ferguson have brought them back into the public consciousness.”
Haj said he hopes Smith’s performance will serve as a type of town hall for the people of Chapel Hill and the University community.
“Having something like ‘Rodney King’ here is exactly the kind of play we need to be doing to invite the community into dialogue,” he said.
Smith said the goal of his piece is to try to help people embrace Rodney King as an actual person instead of simply as a myth or symbol.
He said he hopes people will pay attention to the man he is portraying onstage instead of focusing on themselves.
“We’re so involved with talking or ‘doing a selfie’ that we forget to listen,” he said.
Smith said he wants his audience to open their eyes and ears to the message he’s delivering onstage.
And maybe, he said — on a good day — their hearts.
PlayMaker's "Rodney King" runs Tuesday, Sept. 2 through Sunday, Sept. 7 at UNC's Kenan Theater. Performances start at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
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