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Anna Deavere Smith’s ‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992’ will return to L.A.’s Taper

Anna Deavere Smith, with her hair pulled back, portrays a character in the original "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992."
Anna Deavere Smith in the world-premiere run of “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” which will play in L.A. nearly 30 years after its world premiere.
(Jay Thompson / Center Theatre Group)
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Anna Deavere Smith’s seminal “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” is returning to L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum, where it made its world premiere nearly 30 years ago.

Conceived, written and originally performed solo by Smith as a Center Theatre Group commission, the documentary play has been reimagined for a cast of five performers. The production’s cast and creative team, as well as the rest of the plays in the Taper’s 2022-23 season, will be announced at a later date.

To create “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” Smith and a team of dramaturges conducted more than 350 interviews with politicians, activists, police, jurors, shopkeepers and countless other Angelenos about the uprising sparked by the acquittal of the men charged in the Rodney King police brutality case.

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“The format is simple: Smith takes excerpts from her interviews and reproduces her subjects’ words and mannerisms verbatim in a phenomenal display of mimetic skill,” wrote Jan Breslauer in her Times review of the 1993 world-premiere run, directed by Emily Mann. “It’s a striking show filled with virtuoso artistry and compassion, and a courageous attempt to make sense out of the worst urban riots in recent history.”

In sharing the actual words of the people interviewed, the piece examines the long-simmering tensions that set the stage for the L.A. riots, as well as the immediate impact of the event on individuals and the community as a whole.

“Being asked by Gordon Davidson to move through the embers of the Los Angeles uprising was a watershed moment in my life as an artist and as a human being,” Smith said in a statement. “The can do must do spirit of Gordon, the entire institution and the community, sparked something I had never experienced and have not experienced since.

Anna Deavere Smith
Anna Deavere Smith in the world-premiere run of “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” which will play in L.A. nearly 30 years after its world premiere.
(Jay Thompson/Center Theatre Group)

After its initial sold-out run in L.A., “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” was continually revised and restaged, with each iteration inviting new collaborators. Those include a production at the Public Theater followed by a Broadway run and two Tony nominations, a national tour mounted at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, a film produced by Smith and others in partnership with PBS, and the most recent reconceptualized production for five actors at the Signature Theatre in New York.

Center Theatre Group made the announcement just shy of the 30-year anniversary of the April 29, 1992, verdict in the Rodney King case that led to the L.A. riots.

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“At its best, theatre helps us understand the world around us and no production in our history has illuminated our city like ‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,’” Center Theatre Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Meghan Pressman said in a statement. “Anna’s play introduces us to the individuals who shaped, responded to and were impacted by a pivotal moment in L.A. history. It is a piece that reminds us where we were then and helps us to understand where we are now.”

“Center Theatre Group provided a way for me, in tandem with other drama professionals and with local intellectual/activists, to respond to the civic disaster through theatre,” Smith said in a statement. “Here is where I learned that theatre can be transformative if it exudes what I have come to call ‘a radical welcome.’ No doubt there were folks at the table who had not ever been invited to step up before.”

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