“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992”—A Reflection on Community, Action, and Power

SEP 15, 2022

By Afrikah Smith

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is a verbatim documentary play that began as solo performance piece created and performed by playwright and actor Anna Deavere Smith. Based on over 320 interviews conducted by Smith, audiences experience the retelling of the LA riots after the Rodney King verdict, while also navigating its visceral, complex themes of police brutality and racial justice.

Now, almost 29 years after its premiere and 30 years after the verdict was rendered, Smith has revised Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 for a five-person cast. Adding new scenes in response to George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, and more inclusive of AAPI and Latinx voices, this revision hopes to achieve something more: a continued, in-depth dialogue around civic issues such as racism.

Playing through September 24 and presented in association with Signature Theatre, A.R.T.’s production aims to ask an essential question developed to engage audience, students, artists, and staff in thoughtful conversation with each other, with themselves, and with the play: Amidst racial violence and discord, how do we gather in a way that allows us to imagine ourselves in a more equitable society?

As artists, audiences, and community members, we each play a role beyond the theater space that creates a rippling impact in the ways we see and engage with one another in the present moment. Proven by current events from just the past two years alone, we are called in to question how we are meeting each other at the intersections of time and space. In a city such as Boston, that has yet to reckon with its legacy of racism and how it has affected generations of Boston’s BIPOC communities, how do we collectively imagine and hold dialogue?

In “A Dinner Party That Never Happened,” one of Smith’s new additions to her script, we get a glimpse into what a civil and civic conversation can look like. Where we must not dismiss our differences, but understand the ways in which the facets of our identities give us not only power and privilege; but also the opportunity to identify where we have agency to build coalition around intersectional issues. As Alice Waters (a character) points to, it is at the table where a group comes, hears points of view, and learns about what it is to live in a community.

But where are these accessible spaces in our everyday lives?

Wesley T. Jones, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, Elena Hurst, and Francis Jue sit around a table as Carl Palmer stands to the right, in front of a wall that says, “The Words of Bill Bradley, Former Senator, D-New Jersey: ‘Against Your Will’”.

While watching Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, I couldn’t help but think of the podcast Finding Our Way. Prentis Hemphill, a teacher, somatics practitioner, and movement facilitator, created Finding Our Way to create a space to explore and have dialogue with social justice leaders, artists, and activists on how to create, build skills, and embody the world we want to live in. Perhaps it was serendipity that the episode “Building Power with Alicia Garza” aired the week Twilight opened. In this episode, Hemphill and Garza discussed and broke down what power is and why we need it to build a more equitable society.

Garza describes power as “…the ability to change your circumstances and the circumstances of other people.” As she shares more about the framework in her book, The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart, Garza further adds that “it is also about having influence and impact over the circumstances of others.” In the podcast, she explores the different forms of power and she talks about narrative power as the ability to use storytelling to affirm who we are individually, and who we are together.

And Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 does exactly that. It is not a play of made-up characters and make-believe. It is a living, breathing testimony of people who had and still are navigating the nuances, inequities, and complexities of racism. It is a platform that has empowered BIPOC voices to bring to light their truths and experiences that has historically been left in the dark. But who are we together after the end of the play?

In this twilight, or limbo as the play suggests, I am reminded that it is not that we are searching for immediate answers.

As we find our way, how do we create accountability in relationship to one another and following through the work? While a civic conversation is a starting point, where else is the work being done that needs sustainable support? How are we showing up?

It is crucial that in this work towards addressing racism, we build community as these spaces allow for the sharing of knowledge and resources, as well as closing the distance often created by bias and prejudice. In doing so, we challenge and show what is on the other side when we remove black and white thinking with grace and compassion.

So, as you watch Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, I task you to actively reflect on what are you truly walking away with after seeing the performance. What questions do you have? How are you taking up the call to action?

Wesley T. Jones spotlit on a darkened stage, in front of dusky cityscape that says, “The Words of Twilight Bey, Organizer, Gang Truce: ‘Limbo’”.

Afrikah Smith headshotAfrikah Smith is a Black, queer, multihyphenate cultural worker who uses the arts as a tool for reflection and self-discovery. Their mission is to create intentional work that activates dialogue and welcomes community action at the intersection of identity, time and space, social change, and healing-centered engagement for artists and audiences.


Wesley T. Jones as Paul Parker, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart as Elaine Brown, Elena Hurst as Homi K. Bhabha, Francis Jue as Rev. Tom Choi, and Carl Palmer as Bill Bradley in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992: Lauren Miller.
Wesley T. Jones as Twilight Bey in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992: Lauren Miller

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