A poignant ‘Twilight’ explores the LA riots

LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) – There were a couple of things that triggered the Los Angeles riots in 1992. You had a Black motorist getting the snot beat out of him by four white Los Angeles police officers after a routine traffic stop.

This incident blew the already simmering tension between law enforcement and the Black community right out of the water. The beatdown of Rodney King at the hands of those sworn to serve and to protect generated outrage both nationally and globally as footage of that fateful night was caught on videotape.

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

This was in 1991. Black people were angry. Folks were ready to tear things up then as the friction between the police and the Black community hit a low point.

Adding to that inferno was the unjustified killing of a Black teenager by a local grocer over a bottle of orange juice in South Los Angeles only a couple of weeks after King found himself being pummeled by wildly swung batons wielded like Thor’s hammer.

The murder of Latasha Harlins by Soon Ja Du and the fact she did not receive any jail time for shooting the teenager in the back of the head burned a hole in the relationship long forged between the Black and Korean communities. It was also a premeditated and contributing factor to the riots of 1992, an ugly upheaval that would cost Los Angeles more than $1 billion in property damage.

With the city on edge and Los Angeles teetering on revolt, the acquittal of Timothy Wind, Sgt. Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno, and Laurence Powell was the final straw to break the Black community’s back. Kindness would have to take a backseat to disgust. Rage was now the champion over humility.

The official date or anniversary of the Los Angeles riots is April 29, 1992. The jury’s verdict of the four police officers sent Los Angeles to a point of almost no return. For those who can remember, the rioting became five days of mayhem, chaos, and utter destruction.

Actor Anna Deavere Smith knows firsthand what that period was like.

Drawing from more than 300 interviews, Smith first put together a one-woman show three decades ago about the unrest. Today, Smith is reliving her one-woman show in the form of a cast of five people in “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” playing at the Mark Taper Forum through April 9 in downtown Los Angeles.

“Being asked by Gordon Davidson to move through the embers of the Los Angeles uprising was a watershed moment in my life as an artist and as a human being,” Smith said. “The can do must do spirit of Gordon, the entire institution and the community, sparked something I had never experienced and have not experienced since. Center Theatre Group provided a way for me, in tandem with other drama professionals and with local intellectuals/activists, to respond to the civic disaster through theatre.”

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 by Craig Schwartz Photography

“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” traces back to the pivotal moments that would eventually lead Los Angeles down the path of seeing individuals trying to burn the city down and create an atmosphere of criminality, including looting.

Adding a layer of depth to the play that resonates deeply are the videos of the shooting of Harlins and the King episode that is played to the audience. The visual campaign of those two dramatic moments of American history serves as a stark reminder of what led to the riots in the first place.

Both videos are raw and unflinching. Both hit hard like a Mike Tyson uppercut. The stage play, directed by Gregg T. Daniel, unabashedly hone in on the video beating of King and footage of young Harlins being killed. But the actors make all things go with stellar performances.  

Hugh Armstrong, Lovensky Jean-Baptiste, Lisa Rene Pitts, Jeanne Sakata, and Sabrina Zuniga are dazzling on stage as they bring to life or re-create individuals who were major players in the upheaval.    

Daniel praises Smith for bringing this project to life.     

“This show is about such a consequential time in Los Angeles and Anna poured so much effort into making it a transformative, radical moment in theatre,” Daniel shared. “Her journalistic approach to writing revolutionized theatre when she wrote ‘Twilight,’ and I am honored to work alongside her to breathe new life into this historic and revered play.”

The Center Theatre Group, which the Mark Taper Forum falls under, has held a plethora of community engagement activities to coincide with the playing of “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.” The next event is on April 4.

Sabina Zúñiga Varela in “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” at Center Theatre Group / Mark Taper Forum March 8 through April 9, 2023.
Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

April 4: Radical Hospitality: Moving towards Hope & Outwrestling Despair Dr. Cornel West tells us “Those who have never despaired have neither lived nor loved. Hope is inseparable from despair. Those of us who truly hope to make despair a constant companion whom we out-wrestle every day owing to our commitment to justice, love, and hope.” In this culminating conversation, we return to the spirit and the body to assess how each of us can cultivate a fortitude that allows us to fight the good fight. Among artistic and civil rights giants, we ask how each and every one of us can discover our role in the movement toward liberation.

ACCESS Performance – 2:30 p.m., Saturday, April 8, 2023

Center Theatre Group’s ACCESS program is committed to accessibility for all audiences. CTG offers a number of services to accommodate persons requiring mobility, vision, and hearing access. One Saturday matinee for every mainstage Center Theatre Group production is designated as an ACCESS performance. These performances are designed for patrons who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and/or have low vision. ACCESS performances offer American Sign Language interpretation, Open Captioning and Audio Description. For more information on the ACCESS program visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/Access.

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