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Review: A remake of ‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992’ comes at a time of protracted crisis


The most powerful moments of the revised version of “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” Anna Deavere Smith’s historical drama about the uprising that followed the verdict in the case of the savage police beating of Rodney King, include videos of horrific violence .

When footage of officers brutally beating King is shown, the audience at the Mark Taper Forum, where the play premiered 30 years ago, is filled with silence. The video is well known, as it was part of the national media coverage at the time, but the story has only added to the weight of what we are seeing.

Heartbreaking video of unarmed black men being assaulted by officers has become an all-too-common tragic reality. Cell phone, body camera, and surveillance videos have made all of us eyewitnesses to deadly police brutality.

Video cannot tell the whole story. Where there is a camera point of view, there will always be debate about what lies outside the frame. But the presentation forces theatergoers to see violence in all its horrifying bodily specificity, to understand the inhumanity of the perpetrators and the dehumanization of the victims.

The recording of a face down Rodney King being attacked by batons is not the only video shown in this new production of “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992”. Also included is grainy surveillance footage of the shooting of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl, by Soon Ja Du, a Korean-American convenience store owner who thought she was stealing orange juice.

This incident, which followed the videotaped beating of King, contributed to the civil unrest that result in about $1 billion in damage. (Businesses owned by Korean Americans were disproportionately affected.) More than 50 people died, thousands were injured, and thousands more were arrested (most of whom were Latino, mostly young men).

The production also includes raw footage of the attack on Reginald Denny, the white trucker who was dragged from his vehicle by a group of black men and brutally beaten in an incident that became symbolic of the explosive anger and destruction that engulfed of the city for days. The effect of these videos dominates thinking, but the production insists that we not only bear witness to what is in the frame, but also contemplate what is beyond. (In Denny’s example, this includes information about rescue by black residents who risked their lives to save his.)

In “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” Smith explores the causes and consequences of events that are too momentous for simple explanations. The most radical thing about the work, then and now, is his refusal to give answers. Smith does not editorialize. The only side he is on is humanity’s side.

His theatrical method is to listen to voices that probably would have had trouble hearing each other. His work, made up of excerpts from the more than 300 interviews he conducted in Los Angeles in the year following the uprising, is a kind of talking mosaic, in which competing perspectives can coexist peacefully.

Jeanne Sakata in “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” at the Mark Taper Forum.

(Craig Schwarz)

The play, originally a solo piece performed by Smith herself, has seen many iterations since its premiere on Taper in 1993, including an abbreviated 2000 film adaptation. This new version, directed by Gregg T. Daniel, has been reimagined for a cast of five people.

The actors (Hugo Armstrong, Jean-Baptiste Lovensky, Lisa Reneé Pitts, Jeanne Sakata, Sabina Zúñiga Varela) take turns animating the different speakers. The diversity of the ensemble informs the variety of characters, but the theatrical effect was mitigated by the somewhat shaky command of the script by some of the actors at Sunday’s press presentation, which was pushed back a few days to allow more time for the production. according to a representative of the Center Theater Group.

I was quite excited at the prospect of seeing “Twilight” performed by other talents. But the experience only enhanced my understanding of the power of it as a solo work and the special qualities Smith brought to it as a writer and performer.

He missed most of all the prodigious moral stature of Smith’s stage presence, which overshadowed the community of voices that were channeled through it. He found the theatrical contours of other people’s humanity in his own. The race, class, gender and point of view of the interviewees were not obstacles for her. This elasticity of performance is a key part of the play’s vision and offers implicit proof that the divisions between us are surmountable. Daniel’s production honors this to a degree, but the ensemble cast tempers the effect.

Smith’s handling of language was also, I now see, critical to how “Twilight” worked. The characters in the play make themselves known through their speech acts. They are in conversation with an interviewer and should not be treated as if they are Chekhovian characters lost in their own inner life. The rhetorical dimension of their presences must be prioritized. Mumbling subtext is beside the point.

Lisa Reneé Pitts speaks while wrapping a baby in "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992"

Lisa Reneé Pitts in “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” at the Mark Taper Forum.

(Craig Schwarz)

Playing several key black politicians and activists (including Congresswoman Maxine Waters), Pitts is the most adept of the cast members in deft oratory deployment. Despite some patches of instability, Sakata has moments of piercing authenticity: devastating pleas for understanding from marginalized immigrant corners.

Yee Eun Nam’s projection design is the most dynamic aspect of the staging. Efrén Delgadillo Jr.’s set design wisely opts for unfettered sets, but the movement of the actors has a revolving-door quality that can seem pedestrian, even when a role is played by more than one cast member.

But this renaissance comes to us at a time of protracted crisis and offers us invaluable historical perspective on our own combustible condition. The play is updated for an audience still grappling with the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the national reckoning and protest movement that followed.

The words of former LA Times journalist Héctor Tobar shed light on how the uprising was bigger than a sociological event. He names the “Latino poverty riot” as what happened in the “vacuum” that was created by the breakdown of order. Tobar’s wisdom is called upon near the end of the play to link the videos of George Floyd and Rodney King as catalysts for the awakening of consciousness “through the public dramatizations of black suffering.”

The stubborn persistence of institutional racism, police violence, a bifurcated justice system, and economic inequality may suggest resignation and a reason for despair. But “Twilight” connects us to the long thread of the fight. It asks us to do something that has become even more challenging in our digitally isolated world: make room for another truth, no matter how divergent from our own.

‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992’

Where: Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave, LA

When:20:00Tuesday-Friday, 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturdays, 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 9. (Call for exceptions).

Tickets:$35-$120 (subject to change)

Information:(213) 628-2772 orcentroteatrogrupo.org

Execution time:2 hours and 35 minutes with an intermission

COVID protocol:Checkcentertheatregroup.org/securityfor current and up-to-date information.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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