Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is a moving, vital, and extremely relevant play, which The Other Theater Company knows exactly how to utilize. This production takes the work’s strong cry for empathy and runs with it – we are forced to really look at the victims and to re-evaluate (more than once) our stances on these still very present issues.
The first act emphasizes some of the lead up to the LA riots, along with some lighter-hearted reactions and bumblingly white press releases. There’s a few interesting things going on here: the play is setting itself up to explore the black and white sides of the issue, highlighted by casting opposite each characters race. Here again we see the call to empathy, as a black woman really humanizes the character of a ditzy white country club patron; or a white Rodney King describes what it’s like to have his name spoken in the same breath as Martin Luther King. These portrayals, and the actor’s refusal to fall into stereotype, almost serve to confuse the audience into realizing the treacherousness of identifying oneself by race at all. We realize that we do see race because this is what it could be like if we didn’t. Clearly aware that the message is spellbinding, this production shocks us back to reality with a chorus of clattering police batons, ominous reminders of the intensity to come.
It’s interesting, because it is still fairly rare, to be in a room full of mostly white people all on the side of the rioters. There’s a collective satisfaction when a young black revolutionary savors the enormous financial toll the riots took on the state. It’s exciting to chalk one up for the oppressed minority, and that sort of catharsis is enhanced considerably by the second act’s decision to cast with race. This triumph, however, is short lived as we start to plunge into the heart-wrenching stories of the Korean families made casualties by the riots. The riots feel just when the damages are a dollar amount, not as much when they impoverish yet another oppressed minority. Herein lies the bravery of this play; it calls us white progressives out because we are still taking the easy view on the events that occurred and are still occurring. We know that of course the riots were justified; they were ignited by one of a long series of events in a massive history of systemic oppression, and perhaps served as enough back-lash to keep those igniting incidents from happening again. As this play delves deeper, that’s not an easy stance to maintain.
And here is where the decision to cast all women shines brightest in this production – with every new, damaged character that is introduced, our intense empathy, our extreme awareness of the tier-by tier victimization our country is party to, becomes overwhelming. The play is inherently imbued with the non-violence messages of feminism, it set us up to fail by putting us on the side of the rioters and leaves us to evaluate: there is a problem, the riots are not a solution, so find one. And always, in the back of our minds, we can’t help but be aware that this play was a call to action 20 years ago, that the abuses, the riots, and the casualties are just as much realities today.
We need theater like this. This is the play to see if your fire is subsiding over the police shootings, the acquittals. What The Other Theater Co. has achieved here is more than poignant, it’s vital. A must see, not just for the excellent work put in, but for the passion and fervor it ignites within you.
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 runs through February 22nd at The Chopin Theatre in Chicago. More information can be found at The Other Theatre Company's website.
Wesley James is an actor and writer based in Chicago.