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“Rodney King,” Written and Performed by Roger Guenveur Smith, Opens Sept. 2nd at PlayMakers

Rodney King

PlayMakers Repertory Company will present the regional premiere of Rodney King, a powerful 65-minute one-man show written and performed by 59-year-old Berkeley, CA native Roger Guenveur Smith, on Sept. 2-7 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art. Rodney King is the first of three provocative regional premieres in the 2014-15 PRC2 second-stage series of the university’s critically acclaimed professional-theater-in-residence.

Post-performance discussions with cast, creative team, and subject-matter experts are a hallmark of the PRC2 series, which PlayMakers‘ producing artistic director Joseph Haj describes as “dynamic productions followed by a ‘second act’ of post-show conversation with our audience.”

According to PlayMakers Repertory Company:

“Coming to PlayMakers from acclaimed runs in New York and Washington DC, Rodney King is a poetic, rhythm-charged look at the flawed everyman behind the myth. King endured police brutality, the glare of an unrelenting media and notoriety as the symbolic spark of the LA riots. His plaintive ‘Can we all get along?’ remains an open question in America’s complicated relationship with race.

“It has been said that actor/solo performer Roger Guenveur Smith ‘likes his topics hot.’ His one-man stage shows include A Huey P. Newton Story and Frederick Douglass Now. Screen credits include Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Get on the Bus, as well as Steven Soderbergh’s ‘K Street’ and ‘Oz’ on HBO.

“The Los Angeles Times raved that Smith’s performance in Rodney King is ‘solo wizardry … riffing as freely and confidently as Sonny Rollins on sax.’ The Washington Post called it ‘intensely cathartic and moving.'”

Playwright and performer Roger Guenveur Smith stars in "Rodney King" cast (photo by Patti McGuire)

Playwright and performer Roger Guenveur Smith stars in “Rodney King” (photo by Patti McGuire)

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company of Washington, DC, where Roger Guenveur Smith performed the show July 8-20, 2014, writes: “Rodney King is a rhythm-driven mix of improvised movement and theatre, spoken word poetry, and as Roger himself describes, a ‘post-mortem interview with the man himself.’ Nestled between excerpts from Willie D’s ‘F**k Rodney King’ and King’s memorable May 1, 1992 ‘Can we all get along?’ speech, the piece is an exploration of the legacy of an icon of American history. Rodney King captures the story of a flawed, good-hearted everyman, unraveling the myth of ‘the first reality TV star,’ and by extension, revealing America’s endlessly complicated relationship with its racial past and present.”

On its website, the Public Theater/Under the Radar Festival of New York City writes:

“In this riveting, improvised performance, [Roger Guenveur] Smith unravels the myth of the late Rodney King, revealing a man besieged by the Los Angeles Police Department and an unrelenting media spotlight. Smith’s rhythm-charged narrative navigates King’s fatal descent into his backyard pool, the peaceful punctuation to a life unwittingly distinguished by violence. ‘Can we,’ King implores from the deep end, ‘all get along?’

“Writer, performer and director Roger Guenveur Smith adapted his Obie Award®-winning solo, A Huey P. Newton Story, into a Peabody Award-winning telefilm, scored by Marc Anthony Thompson. Their many collaborations for the international stage also include Iceland, Who Killed Bob Marley?, The Watts Towers Project, and Juan and John.”

According to PlayMakers Rep, the other two PRC2 productions for 2014-15 are:

Wrestling Jerusalem [Jan. 7-11, 2015], written and performed by Aaron Davidman and directed by Michael John Garcés

Wrestling Jerusalem grapples with identity, social justice and history, exploring the competing narratives at the center of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict that has lasted generations. The San Francisco Chronicle calls it a ‘remarkable solo performance’ [of] ‘yearning beauty … deep sadness and wistful hope.’ …

Mary’s Wedding [April 29-May 3, 2015] by Stephen Massicote

Mary’s Wedding is a tale of young love on the eve of The Great War. The night before her wedding to another man, a girl dreams of meeting a soldier, their blossoming love, and the winds of fate that blow them apart when he goes to battle in World War I. Haunting and achingly romantic, in the words of the playwright, it’s ‘a memorial to both the Great War and Great Love.’ Broadway World described the play as ‘[a] wonderfully tender, poignant story of innocent first love and the vicissitudes of fate.’

“The production is one of PlayMakers‘ contributions to UNC’s commemoration of the centenary of World War I.”

SECOND OPINION: Sept. 2nd Chapel Hill, NC WUNC 91.5 interview with Roger Guenveur Smith, conducted by Frank Stasio:; Sept. 1st Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Elizabeth Baker: and PRC season preview by Clayton Johnson:; and Aug. 30th Durham, NC Triangle Tribune preview by Maria Magher:

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents RODNEY KING, written and performed by Roger Guenveur Smith, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 2-5 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: Ticket prices start at $15.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY,, or

SHOW: and





NOTE: There will be post-performance discussions with Roger Guenveur Smith and the creative team, plus local subject-matter experts.


Rodney King (California construction worker whose beating by Los Angeles police officers sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots, 1965-2012): (Wikipedia).

Roger Guenveur Smith (playwright and performer): (official website), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), (Facebook page), and (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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Categorised in: Features, Lead Story, Theatre Feature