Duke Ellington School of the Arts Twilight: Los Angeles 1992By Cappies • Mar 29th, 2012 • Category: Cappies
A bell tolls ominously in complete darkness. Murmurs, whispers come from the stage as the lights rise, then a lone voice calls out in a desperate plea, “Open your eyes!” In just a few hours, Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, performed by Duke Ellington School of the Arts, opened my eyes to the horrors of gang violence and racism that continues to this very day.
Twilight, written by Anna Deavere Smith, tells the story of the LA riots of 1992 through the victims’ eyes. It first appeared on Broadway at the Cort Theater in 1994 as a one-woman show, with Smith bringing the voices of African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, and Caucasians together, protesting the hatred and the violence that had just exploded. The play includes the story of Rodney King, a black man who was viciously beaten by four police officers; and ends with the story of Reginald Denny, a white truck driver dragged out of his truck at a stoplight and beaten by a group of black men. In addition, the play explores the many accounts of men and women who were shot, did the shooting, or simply tried to ignore it all.
The Duke Ellington School production was cast as an ensemble, with each actor playing several different characters that often crossed lines of age, race, and gender. This technique required the use of many different mannerisms, accents, and other such characteristics that the cast pulled off with aplomb. The actors remained in character from the moment they walked onstage, even though many of them had to remain completely frozen for five minutes at a time.
Though there were no specific leading roles, some actors stood out from the rest of the ensemble. Felicity Poussaint told the story of Elvira Evers, a pregnant black woman who had been shot but the bullet had lodged in the baby’s arm. In addition, Hillary Jones appeared several times as Elaine Young, a sassy real estate agent. Both the actresses’ commitment to their characters, dialect, and spontaneity in their monologues added energy to the show. Also notable was DevinRe Adams, who played crisp Congresswoman Maxine Waters to a perfect ten.
One particularly powerful scene utilized almost the entire ensemble as the single character Maria, a juror in the federal trial of the officers who beat Rodney King. Though the twelve actors playing Maria could have been more uniform as they shared the monologue, the overall effect left the audience reeling. Throughout the play, a few actors were inconsistent when playing a gender or race that was not naturally their own, but overall the use of accents and mannerisms was very impressive.
Each actor was barefoot and dressed in black, but used small costume additions such as a scarf, jacket, or necklace to distinguish a specific character. The minimalist set evoked not only a courtroom but a giant grave stone, leading the audience to wonder which begets the other. TV screens not only showed actual footage of the LA riots, but displayed the names of characters as they were being interviewed, to allay any confusion the audience felt in keeping the cast of characters straight.
Overall, Duke Ellington’s production was well executed and deeply moving. The minimalist sets and costumes let the actors tell the story, which they did with energy and enthusiasm. But perhaps most importantly is the voice the actors gave to the people whose lives were torn apart by the LA riots–a palpable cry shouting, “Open your eyes!”
by Claire Seaton of Washington-Lee
Photos by Brian Nielson
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