Smith, who performed the show live over many years across the United States and internationally, gives a breathtaking exhibition of talent and stamina. He moves in the lights like a man trapped in a tai chi routine, slowly, from the balls of his feet to his heels, turning, shifting his weight, yet always maintaining a balance that offsets the rage and anguish and frustration the piece expresses. Rodney King is not easy to watch but it may spark important conversations about the way the deck can be stacked against those who start out in life burdened with disadvantages stemming from living in poor neighborhoods, where bad schools and high drop-out rates and economic hardship combine to limit job opportunities, thus fostering illegal activities that invite contact with law enforcement. Smith opens with rage and seeming disrespect. "F--k Rodney King!" is the first sentence, a quote from the Willie D. rap song, which was a push-back against King's attempt to stop the rioting that began after the white policemen who beat him were acquitted by a white jury. "Can we all get along?" he said, asking the rioters to stop. This feels like one of the few missteps in the piece as a generation has grown up since King made that almost saintly request to stop meeting violence with violence. There's a good chance that only older viewers will know why the black community might be angry with King.
But the piece sharply underscores parallels between King's run-in with the police and similar clashes between the police and black citizens that continue to cast a shadow on race relations to this day. Smith's musings suggest a Black Lives Movement wouldn't be necessary if black lives had improved much since King's day. Smith's stories of injustice are numerous, enraging, and disheartening. A 15-year-old black girl enters a store to buy juice and ends up shot in the back of the head by the shopkeeper. The shooter is convicted by a jury that recommends stiff punishment but the judge reduces the sentence to five years of probation, a fine, and 400 hours of community service. Smith takes that moment to highlight the "400 years of community service" black people rendered in building this country as slaves. King was unquestionably an oppressed black man but, Smith seems to say, he was also just a guy who had a life, and it's also that story Smith wants to tell.