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Review Roundup: Anna Deavere Smith's TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES, 1992


Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is currently playing at Signature Theatre's Irene Diamond Stage.

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

Signature Theatre just celebrated opening night of 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 running through November 14, 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 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).

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Jesse Green, New York Times: Experimentation in the production of classics is crucial, especially in that difficult passage after their debut when most new works disappear. Smith, who is 71, no doubt hopes to see her work performed in the future as much as possible and is exploring ways to ensure that. Still, I found myself wondering why she, and Magar, whose staging is caught between the simplicity of the original premise and an unachieved larger one, chose this form of experiment.

Adam Feldman, TimeOut New York: Although Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 remains a showy vehicle for all of these versatile actors, they mostly stay in their own cultural lanes. Among other things, this probably reflects current concerns about representation and authenticity-the program includes a credit for a Sensitivity Specialist-but it doesn't feel like a compromise. Smith has smartly tweaked the script for performance by an ensemble cast, and the text comes through with renewed variety: It is by turns disturbing, amusing, touching and illuminating.

Helen Shaw, Vulture: the first thing you notice about the Signature Theatre's excellent revival of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is that Anna isn't there. The remount shifts the fundamental equation of her practice: Smith no longer plays all the parts. She is still making and performing other oral histories using her "channeling" method - 2016's Notes From the Field saw her playing everyone from high-school teachers to John Lewis - but revisiting 1992's Fires (as the Signature did in 2019) or 1993's Twilight called for someone and something new. For Twilight, she wrote an updated script, some of which explicitly connects the L.A. crisis to our current one, and the director, Taibi Magar, chose five actors to fill Smith's one pair of shoes.

David Finkle, New York Stage Review: Perhaps Smith's most remarkable achievement is her refusal to editorialize. She simply presents the facts and opinions as told by others. Her panoramic coverage is set forth so that audience members may make of it what they will. Bringing the report up to 2021 date, Smith once again taped journalist Tobar on his retrospective assessment. He delivers it, but with a disturbing thought persisting. For this revival Smith may have shaped her work as a play for our time, a play germane to our post-George Floyd/Black Lives Matter] present.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: One of the advantages of performing "Twilight" with a cast of five rather than as a solo show, is that it allows each performer time to effect a more complete costume change. It also underscores one of Smith's important insights, which she implies in a note in the program, has grown with time - that the conflict was not binary, not just black versus white, but involved the many communities that make up Los Angeles; the cast reflects that diversity.

Naveen Kumar, New York Theater Guide: Its contents, of course, remain painfully resonant. Though the production was scheduled for early 2020, Twilight now includes at least one interview from this year, drawing a direct line from shaky home video of Rodney King's assault to the cellphone recording of George Floyd's murder that sparked the nation's largest-ever protest movement. If learning from the past is possible, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 does essential, even lifesaving, work. There will always be power in its truth, however it is spoken.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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