By Tulis McCall
All through this intense, disturbing, and impeccably produced production of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, I kept coming round to the thought – I was there when it happened.
In 1992 I was living in Los Angeles on North Commonwealth Avenue in the Los Feliz area. We were all aware of the Rodney King trial and assumed that the police officers would be found guilty even though the trial had been moved out to the nearly all white suburb of Simi Valley.
When the verdict came in on April 29th there was a pall that fell over the city. As if we were all holding our collective breath, waiting to see what would happen. We did not have long to wait. Within hours, the rioting began in South Central. At the same time, traffic started to increase in my neighborhood. Soon there was a line of cars outside my window barely moving one foot in 15 minutes – all headed for the freeway. All leaving town. All white.
Our section of town was not too far from South Central. We could see the smoke and smell the fires. Friends called from all over asking if I were okay and telling me that I, too, should get out. Friends out in Santa Monica called to let me know I could stay with them. Over and over, I explained that the traffic outside my house was at a standstill. I was staying put and waiting it out.
I did not leave my house until a few days later when the riots stopped, and to this day I regret that I did not venture down afterwards to help with the clean up along with hundreds of other people who materialized within a very short time.
Because I did not leave my house, I missed a lot. We all did. Like most people, I was glued to my television set. I did not see or hear what Anna Deavere Smith excavated and distilled from over 320 interviews she conducted in Los Angeles after the riots.
I saw Twilight in 1993 at the Mark Taper Forum when Deavere performed what was then her one-woman version. It was a masterful production. She has now surrendered that to the very capable hands of these fine actors (Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, Karl Kenzler, Elena Hurst, Francis Jue and Wesley T. Jones) and their director Taibi Magar as well as the extensive production crew. This was an unusual choice, and it has paid off.
The voices of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 are eager and innocent. They each claim their right to be a thread in this tapestry. The Police Commissioner, Daryl Gates, recalled that he went to a fund raiser on the first night of the riots and stayed longer than expected because “It’s awful hard to break away.” Rudy Salas Sr., a sculptor and painter, remembered the moment in school when he realized that white teachers were the enemy because he was Mexican – except, he knew he didn’t hate them, and that contradiction never went away. Elaine Brown, Former Chairwoman of the Black Panther Party, presents to an imaginary dinner party (guests included Bill Bradley, Rev. Tom Choi, Alice Waters and Paul Parker) the finer points of successful protest that carried a punch instead of a grocery list of grievances. There are the anonymous, and the well known. The observers and the activists. Each piece is brief and has been curated to get the most bang for the buck. We are not allowed to dwell on any one character because each piece dovetails into the next seamlessly.
What we are left with is the surprise that Deavere Smith experienced when she began the interviews in Los Angeles after the riots. This journey took her to places she had never been, and some she had never imaged existed. She treats each character with simplicity and a light touch, thereby leaving room for us to make our own decisions – or not – about our fellow citizens who, 30 years ago, found themselves in the middle of a war.
Be prepared, however, this is a long evening. There are 74 monologues, and for my money a few of them could be sacrificed and the piece trimmed down to 100 or so minutes. Once we out of the gate, there is no need for repetition or a pause until we cross the finish line.
Through November 14 at Signature Theatre. Tickets HERE
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, Written, Conceived, and Originally Performed by Anna Deavere Smith and Directed by Taibi Magar
Cast Includes Elena Hurst, Wesley T. Jones, Francis Jue, Karl Kenzler, and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart
Scenic Design – Riccardo Hernández, Costume Design -Linda Cho, Lighting Design – Alan C. Edwards, Sound Design – Darron L West, Projection Design – David Bengali, Movement Coach – Michael Leon Thomas, Dialect Coach – Dawn-Elin Fraser, Sensitivity Specialist – Ann James