Confusion, anger, and gunshots cloud the 1992 streets of Los Angeles: mobs breaking into stores, people being brutally beaten, and houses set on fire flash onto the screen of every news channel. Civil unrest is at its worst as violence consumes the city.
This is the setting of Duke Ellington School of the Arts’ haunting production of “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.” Originally written and performed by Anna Deavere Smith, the play is a collection of authentic interviews she conducted with victims and witnesses of the tragic L.A. riots of 1992. Nominated for best play at the Tony Awards in 1994, the show’s first hand interviewees come from every race and gender that experienced the uprisings.
What makes Duke Ellington’s version of the show so enticing is the decision to cast a twelve person ensemble playing multiple roles, and to switch the races and genders of actors and their characters, stressing the point that color and sex are insignificant when listening and empathizing with others. In this way, each actor in the cast had to be extremely focused on his or her characters and their part in the story.
DevinRe Adams was put to the test in his role as Congresswoman Maxine Waters. His mannerisms matched that of a woman and his feminine vocal inflections gave the portrayal a sincere feel. Dani Ebbin was given a similar challenge with the role of Cornel West, a male scholar. She walked, talked, and even sauntered like a man, which gave the opening of the second act a genuine ambience. Not once was there a look of doubt or uncertainty in the actors whose genders and races were redefined for the sake of their role.
Although each actor was impressive, Hillary Jones stood out in particular. First appearing as an upbeat real estate agent, Jones's sassy attitude and arrogance allowed her character to serve as almost a comic relief, which nicely offset the heavy plotline. In contrast, Hillary changed completely as she gave a dramatic account of one of the jurors in the Rodney King trial. Her desperate voice and impassioned physicality felt honest and precise. But perhaps most memorable was the portrayal of her final character, Mrs. Young Soon Han. Acting as the soft-spoken yet outraged Korean liquor store owner, Hillary’s convincing accent and emotional delivery was especially moving and ended with tears streaming down her face.
Although Duke Ellington was faced with a disturbing and depressing subject matter, they took on the story professionally. After two acts packed with grief, triumph, and cries for justice, “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” ended with the entire cast kneeling on the stage, exhaling a loud final breath as the lights went down -- a very appropriate ending to an intense reflection on a dark time in American history.
by Shannon Holcombe of Oakton High School