UNC Charlotte’s Belk Theater was packed Tuesday night for Roger Guenveur Smith’s award winning one-man show “Rodney King,” which was followed by a panel discussion with Smith and Journalist Steve Crump from WBTV.
The emotional performance, which won the 2015 Bessie Award, was inspired by the life and death of Rodney King. King survived a brutal police beating in 1991, which was filmed by a bystander and later released to the media. The video of the beating, as well as the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved, sparked the Los Angeles riots of 1992. As a result of the riots, which lasted for days, 55 people were killed and thousands were injured.
In 2012, King died from accidental drowning in his backyard pool. Smith, a notable playwright, actor and director, was so moved by King’s life and death, he put together the one-man show titled “Rodney King”.
“I’m trying to take my audience on a journey of discovery,” said Smith. “The same one that I’ve been on since I opened up my laptop on Father’s Day 2012 and saw that Rodney King had drowned in the bottom of his swimming pool.”
The one-hour show, performed without intermission, was full of raw emotions that ranged from anger to forgiveness. Smith spit, cried and yelled on stage as audience members snapped their fingers in approval. It examined police brutality and racial divides in America. After the show, both Smith and Crump got emotional talking about the 2015 Charleston Church shooting.
During the panel, Smith said that the message of the show is tell the truth. He later added that forgiveness is an important theme in “Rodney King,” saying that forgiveness is what distinguishes a weak person from a strong one.
Audience members, many of whom were fans of Smith’s previous work as well, were given about 30 minutes to ask questions. Many used the time to thank him for the heartfelt performance.