Signature Theatre has announced a one-week extension for Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, National Humanities Medal-recipient Anna Deavere Smith’s gathering of voices surrounding the 1992 L.A. civil unrest in a complex portrait of a city’s racial anguish. The production, directed by Taibi Magar and now running through November 21 at Signature’s Irene Diamond Stage, brings five performers into its dissonant chorus-a bold ensemble vision of a work that was first performed solo by Smith in 1993, and has been made all the more urgent after a year when millions rose up nationwide in a movement for racial justice that rippled around the world.
The production began previews on October 12 and opened on November 1. Check out the festivities below.
The cast includes Elena Hurst (Theatre: Summer & Smoke, A Grave is Given Supper; TV: “Homeland,” “Elementary”), Wesley T. Jones (Theatre: Education, brownsville song (b-side for tray); TV: “When They See Us,” “Bull”), Francis Jue (Broadway: M. Butterfly, Pacific Overtures; Off-Broadway: Cambodian Rock Band at Signature, Soft Power), Karl Kenzler (Broadway: Fiddler on the Roof, You Can’t Take it with You; Off-Broadway: Usual Girls, Peter & the Starcatcher), and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart (Broadway: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Off-Broadway: Sugar in Our Wounds, Pericles, Julius Caesar). The creative team includes Riccardo Hernández (Scenic Designer), Linda Cho (Costume Designer), Alan C. Edwards (Lighting Designer), Darron L West (Sound Designer), David Bengali (Projection Designer), Michael Leon Thomas (Movement Coach), Dawn-Elin Fraser (Dialect Coach), Ann James (Sensitivity Specialist), Charles M. Turner III (Production Stage Manager) and casting by Caparelliotis Casting and X Casting.
One verdict can change the course of history. The news of the police officers’ acquittal in Rodney King’s police brutality case reverberated throughout the streets of Los Angeles. The events that followed the verdict drew worldwide attention. Playwright, actor, and scholar Anna Deavere Smith responded artistically by dissecting the anatomy of the unrest. Smith interviewed over 350 Los Angelinos in preparation for the original performance, and, as she describes, “let the materials reveal meaning-personal, civic, and political,” finding interplay and connection between the monologues through rehearsal. While Smith pored over the recordings in her assiduous depictions of real-life characters, cast members in this ensemble production find drama, conflict, and emotion using the written documents as dramatic texts.
Smith’s transformative study reveals the fault lines that set the city ablaze. Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is equal parts meticulously researched reportage and stirring cry for reform. The parallels between our moment and the play’s setting -nearly three decades apart-underscore the pressing need to confront the systems that enable history to repeat itself. As noted in the opening footage of the video preview released this Summer (and featuring Wesley T. Jones, Karl Kenzler, and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart), “If the production had opened as originally scheduled, it would have been only two weeks before George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests that are deeply resonant with the play.”
Anna Deavere Smith says, “Sadly, the play is still relevant on many fronts. The gentleman who took the video of Rodney King being beaten was apparently testing out his camera for the first time. The video of Rodney King is the first time that a beating was seen by the world and in fact, went viral, if viral was even a word used then. None of us would have known about George Floyd’s murder had it not been for a cell phone video. By the time of Floyd’s killing, citizens were more likely to document police brutality; it is also likely that public outrage following the verdict on the LAPD informed how the verdict on Chauvin came out. We shall see if the current conversation about racial and economic inequality lasts longer and is more effective than the one sparked by the civil unrest in Los Angeles following the verdict.”
Taibi Magar says of staging the play with multiple actors, “What the expanded ensemble offers us is the ability to unearth the complexity and nuance of the dynamics across the different communities that were involved and injured. Working with them to explore the text has been extraordinary, because I share with Anna an absolute and urgent curiosity with how people speak. I’ve always been rebellious about ‘proper language’ and instead revel in unpacking why a person speaks the way that they speak. Anna once said ‘let anyone speak long enough and they will say something poetic.’ The refracted thoughts, and poetry of the ums, and uhs; all of this is music to me. I am also deeply helped by the incredible work of our dialect coach, Dawn-Elin Fraser.”
Premiering following its postponement due to the pandemic in 2020, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 marks the continuation of Smith’s Residency 1 with Signature Theatre, which produced her play Fires in the Mirror in an acclaimed production directed by Saheem Ali, starring Michael Benjamin Washington, in late 2019. In a New York Times Critic’s Pick review, Ben Brantley wrote that the “crystalline revival” of “the enduring work of theatrical art…makes you catch your breath and shake your head in sorrow… The mirrors that Smith has built distill confusion into a wondrous translucence.”
Tickets and Schedule
All performances take place at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s (480 W 42nd St) Irene Diamond Stage. For a full performance schedule click here.
All tickets for the first five weeks of the run are $35, thanks to the Signature Ticket Initiative. In an effort to sustain access to affordable tickets, Signature now offers the choice between the subsidized $35 price, or new option Pay It Forward $52.50-$70 that includes a donation directly to the Signature Ticket Initiative. Ticket prices increase after the first five weeks, starting at $45 beginning November 16.
As Signature prepares to re-open The Pershing Square Signature Center to a wider audience, to keep everyone as safe as possible they will be requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination and masks for all visitors and staff. All dates and protocols are subject to change as guidance and regulations evolve. See all of Signature’s COVID-19 safety protocols and the latest updates at signaturetheatre.org/covid-19.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World was Young (2021 DisOrient Film Audience Choice Award for Best Short Narrative). She is also the Executive Producer for The Cactus, The Language Lesson, The Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs. All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2021 Lia Chang Multimedia, unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at firstname.lastname@example.org