Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Theater: Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (c) Joan Marcus

Theater: Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 
Signature Theater 

Premise: Three events in Los Angeles from 1991 to 1992 could have provided playwright Anna Devere Smith enough material for many plays, but that they happened back to back to back, making Los Angeles national news as the epicenter of racial unrest and rioting, Smith poetically combined them all into “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992.” The first event is the shooting of a 15-year-old black girl by a Korean deli owner after an argument and accusation of theft. The second is the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles cops. The third is the shooting of a white truck driver by an angry, black crowd. As per Smith’s usual style, her plays are based on her own interviews with eyewitnesses, actual participants and (shall we say) interested bystanders. We hear words of a Korean man who was shot in the head during the riots, jurors in the both the criminal and civil trials of the officers in the King beating, academics, witnesses and most memorably, opera singer Leontyne Pryce. 

My Take: Smith performed her show as a monologue on Broadway in 1994 after earlier incarnations at the Mark Taper Forum and the Public Theater. It was later filmed for PBS. For the revival at Signature, Smith has reshaped the show for five actors of various racial backgrounds. There are now quicker cuts between speakers as well as breaking up longer monologues in order for it to almost feel like a debate or exchange of ideas between the actors playing them. Although I am a bigger fan of the original monologue version, this production does give the play a powerful verisimilitude by having, say, an Asian actor playing the Korean characters, not that Smith didn’t have empathy for all her characters when she performed it. I don’t remember if the original did this, but director Taibi Magar puts the videos of all three violent acts front and center, which is risky as it might upstage the balanced viewpoints on display. And of course, it has to be said, if you take out specific names, everything onstage at the Signature could be a discussion of the events of 2020, which is sad in its obviousness. 

VIP: Elena Hurst, Wesley T. Jones, Francis Jue, Karl Kenzler and Tiffany Rochelle Stewart. This acting ensemble keeps the tension high and while not all characterizations are as specifically delineated as others, their acting commitment is undeniable. They have big shoes…I mean bare feet to fill, but they do it admirably and movingly.

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