Home #Hwoodtimes An Inclusive Celebration of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 Revised

An Inclusive Celebration of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 Revised

In revising her groundbreaking examination of the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, Anna Deavere Smith opens her audience’s hearts, minds, and souls to a reckoning that is difficult to watch but rewarding to experience.

By John Lavitt

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 3/25/23 – As a Caucasian middle-aged straight male in 2023, how does my opinion about anything matter in the social and political discourse? It feels like a perilous adventure to have an opinion about Anna Deavere Smith’s revision of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 in an age when cancel culture dominates the headlines. At the same time, given the excellence of the play, maybe there is no reason to worry. As produced by the Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum, the revision of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is a significant theatrical achievement.

Although I never saw the play’s first run in 1993, I remember it was a one-person show where Anna Deavere Smith played all the characters. After conducting dozens of interviews after the riots, she wove the voices together. On the video archway that frames the production, the following was projected before the show began: “The play is based on 200 interviews conducted by Anna Deavere Smith after the 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles. / All words were spoken by real people and are verbatim from those interviews unless otherwise noted.”

On Broadway at the Cort Theatre, the play was nominated in 1994 for a Tony Award for Best Play and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show. In 2023’s2023’s updated version, the play has been adapted for five actors to play various roles. Before commenting on the show, I wanted another voice to begin. As my guest, I brought a transgender African American woman. A musical artist and singer, LZ Love is the author of the upcoming memoir, From the Rooter to the Tooter. I felt it was important to hear her voice about the production before you listen to mine.

LZ Love before the start of Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 at the Mark Taper Forum (Photo: John Lavitt)

After the show, LZ Love reflected, “I remember being with my mother and seeing what happened then. It was hard to watch it again in the theatre because you realize how much the violence and the unrest reduced the humanity of these people. At the same time, watching the play was invigorating: The performance’s excellence and the dialogue’s specificity brought the audience back to what really happened. As we left the theatre, I noticed the audience was so positive. People from diverse backgrounds came out of the show wanting to connect, regardless of race, gender, or social background.”

Indeed, the overall response to the show reflects the quality of the production. In this reimagining, the actors are magnificent as they switch roles and genders. Director Gregg T. Daniel allows his performers to flourish while keeping the narrative drive moving forward. His direction is crisp and focused with a powerful tempo.

The cast – Hugo Armstrong, Lovensky Jean-Baptiste, Lisa Reneé Pitts, Jeanne Sakata, Sabina Zúñiga Varela – is composed of a Caucasian man, an African American man, an African American woman, an Asian woman, and an Asian woman respectively. The diversity of the cast is only trumped (perhaps a word that has become too stained to use in any context beyond the obvious) by the diversity of the voices they take on as actors. Moreover, in the second half of the play, the voices become more complex and intertwined as the actor’s somersault between parts, interacting more with each other.

From L to R: Hugo Armstrong, Sabina Zúñiga Varela, Lovensky Jean-Baptiste, Jeanne Sakata, and Lisa Reneé Pitts in “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” at Center Theatre Group / Mark Taper Forum March 8 through April 9, 2023.
(Photo: Craig Schwartz Photography)

Perhaps the most surprising and moving moment for me was when Hugo Armstrong took on the role of Reginald Denny, reflecting on what happened. He does not remember the beating or how the people saved his life. However, his gratitude for the actions taken by these four African American citizens is beyond words. Welling up with tears, he is still amazed that strangers would take such a risk to help him. Without them, he knows he would most likely have died, and the positivity of his expression is a wonder to behold. Despite nearly being beaten to death by an enraged mob, this man expresses no bitterness or resentment. He chooses to focus on the positive.

In addition, Lisa Reneé Pitts does an incredible job as Angela King, the aunt of Rodney King. She intimately brings us into the family fold as we see this man not as a historical victim but as a family member. Angela King lovingly reveals his quirks and dreams so that you feel like you are seeing the man for the first time.

It makes the experience of watching the vicious beating by the out-of-control police officers even more complicated to watch. Indeed, Lisa Reneé Pitts follows a path that all the actors take: They find the humanity in their characters, showing them respect. It is what they deserve as real human beings and not fictional creations. They understand that to play these characters is to respect with a deep understanding of the shoes they walked in, even when offensive and ugly.

The offensive and the ugly remain in a country that feels even more divided today than in 1992. After the trainwreck of the last president’s administration, primal wounds of prejudice and anger are inflamed. For a person like LZ Love, the battles are multi-dimensional because gender is now a battle line, and there is a potential reckoning. It seems like there are so many potential reckonings possible in this country.

Looking forward to what waits on the horizon, LZ Love says, “As a trans woman, I do not want to see such rioting and violence again in my lifetime, but I am frightened that it might happen. I know more protesting is coming because there is still so much hatred and prejudice. I hope African Americans can understand that separating themselves from any minority fighting for their freedom is the wrong path to take. All minorities should be respected. In my community, I am supported as an African American, but not always as an African American trans woman. Why must we struggle to be acknowledged and accepted by our people? Haven’t we learned anything from the history played out in Twilight? We are all human beings. We all just want to wake up tomorrow and know we will be safe and okay. Is that asking so much? I am hoping and praying for freedom and equality for all of us.”

Tickets to this show and 75+ additional productions starting at $20 are available now during LA Theatre Week.  https://www.theatreweek.com/los-angeles/

(Photos: Craig Schwartz and John Lavitt)