In April 1992, widespread rioting, looting and assaults broke out in South Central Los Angeles after a jury acquitted four white L.A. police officers of excessive force in the roadside arrest and beating of a black man, Rodney King.
The six-days of riots, which resulted in 63 deaths, nearly 2,400 injuries, 12,000 arrests and more than $1 billion in property damage, prompted actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith to write a one-woman play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, a documentary-type oral history of what happened during the unrest and its aftermath.
Earlier this year, the streets of America again were home to protest, looting and violence, fueled by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African Americans who died in incidents with police officers. Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York, Louisville, Ky., Kenosha, Wisc., and Portland, Ore., were among the cities that experienced protests, property damage, multiple injuries and even death.
In the nearly 30 years between these incidents of unrest, Smith’s masterpiece work remains relevant and its words, culled from hundreds of interviews with diverse subjects who participated or were touched in some way by the Los Angeles riots, still reverberate.
The testimonies of more than 40 characters are the fabric of Twilight which the Straz Center and Jobsite Theater will present in the Jaeb Theater in November with national recognized spoken word artist Andresia Moseley breathing renewed life into the multi-voiced script.
The monologues include recognizable people such as U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates and Ted Briesno, one of the officers acquitted in the King beating.
Other lesser known voices also are included, such as a victimized truck driver, a Korean store owner, a juror and Rodney King’s aunt.
As unique as everyone’s story from 1992 is, recollections from nearly 30 years ago sound similar to what the stories being told in Minneapolis, Louisville and other places around the nation where African Americans are dying at police hands.
Prior the the COVID-19 nationwide shutdown that is still affecting theaters and entertainment venues, Tony®-nominated Smith was preparing other actors to bring a revival of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 to Off Broadway’s Signature Theater. The pandemic derailed that return.
Anna Deavere Smith talks about identity, racism, and disrupting the system with her work in the video below.
In June, PBS aired a taped presentation of Twilight starring Smith which included an introduction where she said “In light of the challenges facing our country right now, I hope that this encore presentation of Twilight offers some lessons learned in Los Angeles and that they can be applied now.”
And in a July interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Smith pondered whether “this moment” is different.
“I don’t know that I can say that the outcome will be different, because I don’t have a crystal ball,” Smith told The Chronicle. “It’s relevant that it happened during the pandemic … the protests are worldwide,” in a way that they weren’t almost 30 years ago. Smith told the newspaper that she thinks young people’s concerns about climate change, student loans, health care, the presidential election, “all fed into the streets” in 2020’s demonstrations. The Los Angeles riots in ’92 didn’t become a movement, she recalled, but this moment, especially given Black Lives Matter activism, “may be” one.
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 will be in the Jaeb Theater Nov. 11-Dec. 2. The Straz is applying approved COVID-19 safety protocols and socially-distanced seating. Click here for more details and to purchase tickets.