A look at the Rodney King riots 25 years later in ‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992′ at TheatreLAB this weekend
“It was like the end of the world!”
With sound and fury, the audience is welcomed into a city burning. Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is an hour and a half of rage, grief, and terror, punctuated by small moments of compassion and forgiveness that are as ephemeral as smoke.
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is a one-woman show written and first performed by actor, playwright, and professor Anna Deavere Smith. She interviewed almost 300 people who had first-hand accounts of their experiences during the riots, which are composed into a series of monologues. Some of these characters include public officials like LAPD Chief Daryl Gates and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, truck driver Reginald Denny, an anonymous juror whose verdict in the King trial incited the riots, and other ordinary people who were victims, instigators, and witnesses.
Twilight is the penultimate production of TheatreLAB’s Cellar Series, which focuses on productions with shorter runs and smaller budgets. Addie Barnhart of Quill Theatre directs the show while Katrinah Carol Lewis, TheatreLAB’s Associate Artistic Director, performs.
“I think it’s a beast in itself,” Barnhart said about the challenge of directing a one-woman show. “I think it’s easier to be self-indulgent and self-conscious at the same time.”
TheatreLAB’s Basement is a small, concrete space that’s surprisingly intimate. Maybe thirty people are seated in the audience, a mostly white crowd that chats amongst themselves while sipping beer and wine. Once the lights go down and Lewis explodes into the space, not a word is uttered.
“A major disaster—man-made. A catastrophe! You know what I’m sayin’?”
The monologues are interspersed with early 90’s hip hop music. “California Love” plays in the background while scenes from the riots are showcased on the screen. Lewis’ face is anything but blank during these in-between moments; she’s not in character, but another witness, just like the audience.
“She’s an incredible transformative actor,” Barnhart said. “She’s been so willing to play and so interested to make sure these people are authentic and real human beings rather than caricatures of people.”
Lewis’ transformations sometimes occur in seconds, her facial expressions changing minutely in a way that suggests an entirely different person. She strips off the tie of Charles Lloyd, defense attorney, and wraps a bright shawl around the shoulders of Gina Rae, a community activist. The strident tones turn into a lilt with a bite, the punctuating hands become pointed as they lift a cigarette.
Lewis’ admitted the material was challenging work.
“The text on the page is what was actually said in the interviews, the ‘uhs,’ ‘ums,’ repeated words and phrases, the phrases that make no sense, the misused words, the stutters–they’re all included,” Lewis explained of the text. “Anna Deavere Smith crafted the play from words straight from the mouths of the real people being represented. The words of the play are very alive.”
One of the most powerful moments is that of the anonymous juror. Lewis sits in a chair, her face half in shadow as her head hangs; her shoulders are shaking, but just barely.
“The police were trying to get us into the busses and hide our faces,” she says. “One of the obnoxious reporters…said why are you hiding your heads in shame? Don’t you know that people are dying and buildings are burning inside Los Angeles because of you?”
Her sob catches in the back of her throat.
“It’s an important work,” Barnhart explained. “It’s a piece that’s still so relevant. We’re twenty years after the riots and it still feels so current and so relevant. In a lot of ways we’ve made progress and in other ways not at all.”
Lewis agreed. “America is not very different 25 years later. That is what I come to realize exploring this play. A lot of the words and insights that are expressed in this play could have been spoken yesterday.”
Maxine Waters is one of the characters in Twilight, and as a public figure her swagger and string of pearls are as iconic as her achievements. Lewis portrays her with grandeur and gusto, though the words she spoke nearly twenty years ago seem to not have aged.
“She has been a champion for so many years and she’s still fighting,” Barnhart said. “The words she speaks in this play are almost exactly the same things she’s saying today.”
As the last words are spoke, the lights dim and more footage rolls. But, instead of grainy footage of the riots, it’s images of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, pictures taken on iPhones of Black Lives Matter protests. One protestor holds up a sign with a familiar phrase, shouted in the background of the Rodney King riots. No justice, no peace.
“We are exploring the LA Riots, or Rebellion, 25 years later in the era of Black Lives Movement,” Lewis said. “In an era where hate speech and hate crime is rampant. In an era where it seems we may be going backwards with regards to steps we have taken forward to create a more equitable society.”
“Twilight asks us to shine a light on that which is in the dark. It asks us to explore the ideas and feelings of those who are different than us. We need that reminder right now.”
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 runs through March 24th-April 1st at The Basement of TheatreLAB. It has sold out for the rest of its run, but you can learn about upcoming shows at theatrelabrva.org.
Quill Theatre brings 18th century Paris to life in its adaptation of David Ives’ comedy ‘The Heir Apparent’
Audience members should be warned of potential whiplash from the fast-as-lightning literary volleying.April 17, 2017
- ALBEE FEST digs deep into the prolific playwrights past for multiple performances at Firehouse Theatre, April 11, 2017
- The controversial story of a young women’s search for peace in Palestine comes to life thanks to TheatreLAB, March 6, 2017
- VA Rep’s ‘Violet’ offers powerful vocal talent and story telling, February 21, 2017
- Prev Missing Charlottesville transgender woman’s case changed to homicide
- Next #BiTwitter: Right now bisexuals are trending on Twitter
- Back to top
- Brian Burns returns with new book detailing RVA’s history of income inequality, homosexuality and Maymont owner’s use of convict labor
- Proud lesbian, cult survivor and nurse – Chelsea Savage looks to capture Virginia House seat
- Alabama one step closer to matching Virginia with anti-LGBTQ adoption legislation
- GAYCATION returns with ‘United We Stand’ special focusing on LGBTQ life in Trump’s America
- Virginia trans teen is youngest of Time Magazine’s ‘Most Influential People’ for 2017