GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – The old saying about history repeating itself comes to mind when viewing “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” presented by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre.
Much surrounding the Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King and the aftermath of an acquittal – catalysts for the play – echoes through recent events in Minneapolis.
UWGB-Theatre leaps into the project as a free online offering that is available through March 28. Info: uwgb.edu/theatre.
This is a major effort.
Real people are depicted, and what they said is presented verbatim. Playwright Anna Deavere Smith interviewed a broad swath of people familiar with the beating of Rodney King and the eventual riots that claimed the lives of 63 people.
“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” takes a running, headlong leap at a social dilemma.
The play lets it all hang out in perspectives, philosophies and profanities.
Disclaimers are ample, including from director Alan Kopischke.
From his director’s notes: “(Playwright) Smith makes clear that part of the intent and part of the power of the performance is having actors inhabit characters whose gender, racial and other identities don’t match the actor’s… (Smith has said) “(I)t is important that some individuals have the ability to walk in the shoes of someone different from them, even an enemy.”
Also: “(Cast members) have not only navigated the challenges of this intricate play, but have rehearsed via virtual platforms deprived of the company of their colleagues, adapted to recording a play out of sequence, adapted to health protocols, and endured personal tragedies and upheavals.”
Alan Kopischke connects with Anna Deavere Smith – she having directed him in San Francisco prior to the Rodney King events.
Because of circumstances, Alan Kopischke filled in playing two roles in the production. My take is, his performances inspired the student cast. He is a professional actor (seen in the region), and his characterizations (as Korean women), nuances, speech, body language and mannerisms say, “This is how its done.” And, time and again, the students turned around and absorbed their roles.
Ten students portray 34 characters – witnesses to horrific happenings to participants to riot victims to the chief of police to business owners to activists.
The story is the real deal about supremely volatile situations, and the people are the real deal who shape a collage of personalities. The student performances – all monologues – are keenly shaped in personalities, accents, inflections, behaviors and intensities.
Capturing this is videographer Neil Brookshire, who has been associated with COVID-19 pandemic-precipitated projects in the region of late. Scenes often include home and work backdrops, costuming and more than one camera angle.
Each scene is loaded with impact because the person speaking has something at stake.
Additionally, edited in is video footage. Rodney King is seen receiving 56 police baton blows and, in the midst of the rioting, emotionally asking on TV, “Can we get along?”
Other footage shows another assault, parts of Los Angeles afire, the pummeling of marchers in Selma, a protest in Milwaukee and other inflaming acts.
It’s all very interesting.
The play and video footage show what happened. What is spoken by the interviewed people – whatever their perspective – continues to be echoed.
Fascination slips in many times. A lawyer tells lawyer jokes. A real estate agent talks around the topic – about her plastic surgeries and being the ex-wife of actor Gig Young – before finally getting to the fact there was a riot. A woman casually tells how a stray bullet lodged in the arm of the fetus of her baby (now born and well) saved the life of both of them. At the start, all cast members introduce themselves and state their sexual and racial identities.
Performances are intensified because they are one on one – and as if a person is admitting something to the listener.
For UWGB Theatre, this is an epic project – the individual preparation and recording, additional archival footage and the incendiary material.
A strange combination of disruptive events led to this production, and, like the bullet and the baby, amazing things happened. The project is extraordinary.
Running time: Two hours, 29 minutes, including introduction
Access to March 28 info: uwgb.edu/theatre
Creative: Playwright – Anna Deavere Smith; director – Alan Kopischke; scenic design – Hayden Barlass; properties design; Isabelle Austgen; costume coordinator – Chloe Ledvina; dramaturgy – Thomas Campbell; lighting design and technical director – Dinesh Yadav; assistant technical director – David Cook; production stage manager – John Thornberry; assistant stage manager – Kendra TeBeest; assistant lighting design – Halley Lau; production assistant – Megan Jones; videographer – Neil Brookshire; video editor Anya Kopischke; managing director of theater productions – Rebecca Stone Thornberry; executive production assistant and graphic design – Tricia Adams; university communications liaison – Sue Bodily
Ted Briscno, Stanley K. Sheinbaum, Octavio Sandoval, Talent Agent, Alice Waters – Kara Anderson
Jose Morales – Joe Binyoti
Gina Rae a.k.a. Queen Malka, Frederico Sandoval, Elvira Evers, Paul Parker – Jasmine Christyne
Charles Lloyd, Keith Watson, Shelby Coffey III, Bill Bradley – Andi Koene
Mrs. June Park, Mrs. Young-Soon Han – Alan Kopischke
Rudy Salas, Sr., Jay Wong Yahng, Anonymous Man, Judith Tur, Chris Oh, Jin Ho Lee, Twilight Rey – Cory J. O’Donnell
Maxine Waters – Tina Robinson
Jessye Norman, Katie Miller, Walter Park, Elaine Brown, Maria – Aisa Rogers
Angela King, Joe Viola, Sergeant Charles Duke, Daryl Gates, Reginald Denny – Audrey Soberg
Elaine Young – Kendra TeBeest
Cornel West – Matthew Thompson
“Once Upon a Time”
“No Justice, No Peace: The Story of Latasha Harlins”
“The Story of Rodney King”
“The First Trial/Simi Valley February 1992”
“The National Guard Comes to L.A.”
The original production of “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” ran for 72 performances on Broadway in 1994. It was nominated for a Tony Award. It won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show.
Anna Deavere Smith is known through TV. Among her roles: national security advisor Dr. Nancy McNally in “The West Wing,” hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus in “Nurse Jackie” and U.S. District Court Clerk Tina Krissman on “For the People.”