I was very fortunate in being able to see Anna Deavere Smith’s performance piece TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES, 1992, directed by Tim Rhoze and featuring Jazzma Pryor at the by Noyes Cultural Arts Center. The performance was outstanding. However, it closed the following day but hopes to tour locally.
It was a tour de force by Jazzma Pryor. The stamina alone, to move in and out of 30 different characters, was noteworthy on its own, but to continually create a new character instantly recognizable with perfect accents and stance, talking to the audience and telling their story was genius. Conveying people of different genders, races, cultures and status, it feels as though each character is talking directly to you, telling their personal story.
Credit must also go to director Tim Rhoze. The staging, costuming, lighting and sound and effective use of the large monitor came together to create an evening of outstanding theater.
The topic is not easy. This is the story of the Los Angeles riots in the aftermath of the 1991 Rodney King beating, from a variety of perspectives. Smith has collected fragments of monologues derived for actual interviews that both invite and provoke conversation. While it dates back to 1991, it feels current and relevant. The play raises questions about race, power, truth, and justice. It demonstrates how myths, misinformation, and misunderstanding can lead not only to prejudice and stereotyping but also violence.
TWILIGHT takes Smith’s interviews with more than 300 people about their reactions to the events related to the 1992 riots, and weaves them into a series of monologues and real-life “characters.” Her script depicts such public officials as LAPD chief Daryl Gates and Congresswoman Maxine Waters; a nameless juror on the police trial; victims and instigators of violence in South Central; and residents of greater Los Angeles with their own view of the events, including opera singer Jessye Norman and actor Charlton Heston. The story told by a woman who was pregnant and had a stray bullet go through her stomach requiring a C-section where the bullet was then removed from her baby’s elbow was riveting. The baby was OK.
This play will be revived this fall in New York City by the non-profit Signature Theatre Company but it is a different interpretation. No stranger to New York, the original Broadway production was nominated in 1994 for a Tony Award for Best Play and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show. The original Broadway production opened at the Cort Theatre in New York City on April 17, 1994 and ran for 72 performances. A feature film version, with Smith reprising her performance, was released in 2000. If you see this playing, see it!
About Anna Deavere Smith
Smith is best known as a playwright and actress for her “documentary theatre” style, also called verbatim theatre, in plays such as Fires in the Mirror (1992) and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (1993). Both featured Smith as the sole performer of multiple and diverse characters, based on interviews she had conducted with numerous residents and commentators in the two cities where riots took place. For these works, she won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show two years in a row. She interviewed more than 100 people as part of her creation of Fires in the Mirror, which dealt with the 1991 Crown Heights riot. In 1992, she interviewed some 300 people as part of her research for creating Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, which dealt with the 1992 Los Angeles riots after the acquittal of police officers who beat Rodney King, in events captured on tape. Both of these plays were constructed using material solely from interviews.
About Fleetwood–Jourdain Theatre
Founded in 1979, under the name of the Foster Community Theatre, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre has been thrilling audiences with over three decades of unique, inspirational and invigorating African American and African Diaspora-centered storytelling. From original plays to the best of Broadway, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre remained committed to supplying the very best in theatre. “Umoja!! ….Working Together in Unity” is the foundation from which FJT began and continues to thrive!
It is our mission to present powerful, thought-provoking, community-centered Theater Arts programming with a commitment to diversity and creative excellence. We are dedicated to providing a nurturing and creative environment for directors, playwrights, set, light, and costume designers, as well as for experienced and novice performers. In this positive environment, they can develop their skills and fully express their talents. The Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre is funded in part by the Illinois Arts Council, A State Agency.
Photos: Kara Roseborough