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With “Twilight,” Rodney King Riots Transform Palm Coast Stage Into a Rap of Revelations

| February 23, 2013

Anna Deavere Smith's 'Twilight,' directed bby John Sbordone at the City Repertory Theatre in Palm Coast, cuts through the graininess.

Anna Deavere Smith’s ‘Twilight,’ directed bby John Sbordone at the City Repertory Theatre in Palm Coast, cuts through the graininess.

Last chance: Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. is the last show. For tickets to the show, buy them easily online here.

The first thing you need to know is that “Twilight: Los Angeles,” the new play opening at City Repertory Theatre Friday, has nothing to do with that vampire gush of kitsch that’s seized teens by the pimples since 2008.

At City Repertory Theatre:

    “Proof,” by David Auburn, directed by John  Sbordone, at City Repertory Theatre,  7:30 p.m. Nov. 9-10 and 16-17, and 2 p.m. Nov. 11 and 18. Performances are at CRT’s venue in City Market Place, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite B207, Palm Coast. Tickets are $20 adults, $15 students. For more information or tickets, call the CRT box office at 386-585-9415 or easily book tickets online here

Click On:

This “Twilight” predates Stephanie Meyer’s the way the original Genesis predated Peter Gabriel’s. This “Twilight” is Anna Deavere Smith’s, the playwright and whirlwind of an actress who won prominence in her role as National Security Adviser Nancy McNally on “The West Wing” during the late Bush years.

This “Twilight” recreates the days and world of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots in South-Central, following the acquittal of the cops who savaged Rodney King by the side of a road, after a traffic stop, a pair of events that unraveled a seething and institutional racism scouring through the Los Angeles Police Department, and an inner-city culture that could itself tip into the barbaric at a boot’s trigger. As it did. Fifty-three people were killed in the six days of rioting from April 29 to May 4, when South-Central was a scene of looting, rapes, arson, murder and vigilantism until National Guard troops finally suppressed the brutality.

The second thing you need to know is that “Twilight” is an evening of theater unlike any other you will experience this year in Palm Coast: the monologues on stage are like voices of conscience (and voices of the unconscionable) trying to make sense of a culture sometimes too diverse for its own good: it is “Leaves of Grass” if Walt Whitman had been a rapper.

As it is, Smith is Whitman’s latter-version’s incarnation. She interviewed a couple of hundred people in the aftermath of the riots and turned the results into a one-woman show where she portrayed no fewer than four dozen people involved, directly or not, in the riots. She doesn’t focus only on Rodney King (who died destitute last June, in his swimming pool). There’s the truck driver Reginald Denny, yanked from his cab and savaged by rioters no less violently than King was by the cops. There’s the story of the murder of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocer who thought she was shoplifting. There’s attention to the fault lines between Mexicans, whites, Asians and others that course through the culture to this day. Smith recreates that unmalting melting pot. She is “the ultimate impressionist,” David Richards wrote of Smith in The Times. “She does people’s souls.”

And so she does: “Twilight” is a soulful explosion of grit, humor, tragedy, anger, hope and sheer energy held at a sort of rhetorical boiling point from start to finish. It immerses you in the tensions and conflicts of those early 1990s in a way that sounds uncomfortably familiar, even for those who did not live through the riots: some of those cultural shards are still with us, no matter the skin color of the current occupant of the White House, and are echoing down to too-recent events such as the killing of Trayvon Martin, the black youth shot at the end of a confrontation with George Zimmerman, the white-Hispanic volunteer “neighborhood watch coordinator” with a streak of vigilantism, in Sanford last February.

crt-twilight-palm-coastIt was around that time that John Sbordone, the co-founder, with Diane Ellertsen, of Palm Coast’s City Repertory Theatre, decided to produce “Twilight,” a first for Palm Coast, in conjunction with Black History Month.

“I’m always searching for good, call it minority literature we might be able to use,” Sbordone said, “and I had caught a YouTube thing of Anna Deavere Smith with her previous show, because she doesn’t have this show on YouTube, and I said, wow, let me go look at ‘Twilight.’ And when I looked at it, it reminded me in many ways of ‘Laramie,’” meaning the “Laramie Project,” produced by the City Repertory Theatre in its inaugural season and still one of its most successful shows: “Laramie” recreates the Wyoming broil that led to the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old freshman at the University of Wyoming on Oct. 7, 1998. Shepard was gay. His murderers were bigots in denial. “The Laramie Project” is the eulogy of a culture through a series of interactive monologues by representations of those involved.

“That’s pretty much why I chose it,” Sbordone went on, referring to “Twilight,”  “because the format of Laramie worked so well in our room, although it’s not like Laramie in many ways, because it’s all monologues. Laramie had interaction. But what I wound up doing is taking the monologues and dividing them in such a way that it appears like interaction in some of the sequences. And that gives it a different kind of dynamic. But I’ve also put on a superstructure on the monologues, in that I’ve created a mob. I’ve created riot sounds, and our actors are wearing blank masks, becoming part of an anonymous mob, so the atmosphere in the room changes because of that. So it’s no longer simply a monologue show, but a show that tries to capture the atmosphere of the event externally as well as through the words of the participants.”

Rodney King, 1965-2012

Rodney King, 1965-2012

Smith had written “Twilight” as a one-woman show, and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 1994. Sbordone’s “Twilight” parcels off the nearly 50 voices among eight actors (John Pope, Sue Pope, Andre Maybin, Dawn Hawkins, Laniece Fagundes, Josh Fagundes, Bruce Popielarsky and Evelyn Lyman), each recreating the voices of several individuals, giving the actors a chance to show their range—and the audience a window into world that at times will look more like a mirror, and sound like the ambient jangle of contemporary culture.

“This is a rough show, there’s no question about it. Language, street language: we won’t shy away from anything that seems totally appropriate to the moment,” Sbordone says. The monologues are interlaced with gangster rap, which provides some of the transitions, and with Sbordone’s own baritone and naturally, ironically menacing narration. “It’s a heck of a show, it’s a fascinating show, and I don’t think anybody in this area will have seen anything like it.”

It is situated in the early 1990s of the first Bush—the end of the Soviet Union, the end of South African apartheid, the never-ending whines of Ross Perot, the emergence of Bill Clinton—but it isn’t yet, unfortunately, dated, in Sbordone’s view, despite political appearances to the contrary.

“Racial politics haven’t changed that much in the interim,” he says. “There’s a wonderful speech from Maxine Waters, representative of the 35th District, South-Central, in which she’s talking about the problems of black youth, and the young men in particular. Doesn’t seem to me that much of that has changed at all.”

“When I heard about a meeting at the White House, to talk about a kind of urban package,” Waters is heard saying at one point in the play, “I could not believe that they would attempt to even try to have this meeting without involving, if not me, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.” Waters, angered, hails a cab and orders it to go to the White House. She seats herself at the table, and the president—the first George Bush—walks in, eyeing her with a quizzical look. But she’d made her point. Hard to imagine Waters not being invited to today’s White House for a discussion of urban affairs, of course.

But the show is by no means a hammering of horrors, either: Smith is in it for the revelations of those souls she explores and the hope they yield, “despite and still,” as the poet Robert Graves might put it. And she’s in it for the humor and joy still possible through it all.

Some of that joy is inherent to the cast, for reasons that have nothing to do with the show. Laniece Fagundes, formerly Wilson, is one of the actresses on stage and a local stage veteran (“Hairspray,” “Jacques Brel,” “Jesus Christ Superstar”). She happens to be eight and a half months pregnant. Her husband Josh is also in the production. She’s due March 3. But it could happen any time between now and then. “Her husband Josh is another simply phenomenal performer,” Sbordone said. “He said if she has to go to the hospital, don’t worry. I’ll stay.”

“Twilight: Los Angeles,” written by Anna Deavere Smith, directed by John Sbordone. Evenings, February 15, 16, 21, 22, 23 @ 7:30p.m. and Sunday February 17 @ 2:00 p.m On CRT’s stage at Hollingsworth Gallery, City Market Place, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, behind Walmart (see map). Tickets are $15. Buy them online easily here. Call 386.585.9415 for more information.

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14 Responses for “With “Twilight,” Rodney King Riots Transform Palm Coast Stage Into a Rap of Revelations”

  1. NortonSmitty says:

    “Can’t we all just get along?” Don’t look like it Rodney.

    The fact that a squeaky clean Police Cadet and Navy Vet was forced to go Postal this week to point out the fact that in 2013, a cop can do whatever he or she want’s as long as an honest cop shuts his mouth shows that the only difference between evil ignored and evil punished is how we allow our Thin Blue Line to game the system.

    Not to mention that the only way we all find out that the Cops who put the clubs to poor Rodney s head that night are not still unemployed for their sadistic brutality, but a have been promoted to Generals in the LA Sheriffs Department, is if you declare war and shoot a few of them.

    Is this a great country or what?

    I’ll see you all who give a damn at the premier.

  2. Sgt. Saber says:

    What a crock of BS. I am so sick and tired of this “poor black me” garbage. Anyone who has lived in or near L.A. or any other large city knows the sub-human society that lives and breeds for GENERATIONS. None want to work…All want FREE money from the government . When the REVOLUTION comes ( And its coming) you better get yourselves FAR away from any large city in America. No ” cum-ba-ya ” feelings are going to save you butts from tribal savage mentality, only ammo and more ammo !!!!

  3. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    @ Sgt. Saber, So your tired of the poor black me garbage? Then move to a place where nobody that looks like you is in charge and see how long you would last. Then it would be poor white garbage. Stop hiding behind your guns and treat people the way you want to be treated.

  4. Magnolia says:

    Anonymousay, I thought treating people with respect is what I have been doing my entire life, right along with not tolerating anything less from others. I am getting tiring of being called a racist every time I open my mouth to express a difference of opinion. A racist is the last thing I am.

    What I am finding is a very rapid push back to the old days, a push towards racism when it suits politically, a sacrificing of our black youth, as in the Chicago shootings. Can they stop it? Yes. The question should be why aren’t they? I am outraged at a generation being sacrificed to make a point and a populace sitting back thinking they have to accept this.

    The point here is that this was a police department out of control, but the real story is the redeeming of Rodney Smith. I wonder if they will cover that?

    Norton, I will not be at the premiere. I was in LA during this time and prefer to remember the positive that has transpired since. I can’t see anything redeeming about a production like this. It disgusts me now just as much as it did then.

  5. My Daily Rant says:

    Do they include the part where the Blacks took Reginald Denny out of his truck and almost beat him to death.probly not.I agree with you Sgt. Saber I to am sick of Minorites always playing the Race Crap.

  6. Magnolia says:

    You want to speak of injustice? Why is nothing done about the thousands of black youths being shot to death each day on the streets of DC and Chicago? Seriously.

    They could stop it if they wanted to. Guns are illegal in both cities. We live in enough hopelessness. I don’t need to pay to see it.

  7. Mel Bronson says:

    This is Hollywood exploitation and totally DISGUSTING. Both black, brown, red, grey, yellow, green, orange and purple people lose with this TRASH! This is all about promoting class warfare and hate. This is what pres. obama is all about and it is UGLY~!!!!!

    I wish Hollywood all the WORST failure and bankruptcy. They deserve complete failure after destroying American society and the country’s future.

  8. Anon says:

    It looks like someone should go down to their local KKK meeting place and sign up for a lifetime membership.

  9. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    @ Magnolia: I don’t recall referring to you as a racist. It’s just a little troubling to read comments about injustice, and how scared and fearful some of our neighbors claim to be, based off falsehoods. If a group of Minorities expressed the anger and outrage at the system and another group of people the way some of our privileged neighbors are doing you guys would ask for mass euthanasia. Ask yourself how long would you last or would have lasted if you were the product of a nation that had put a lot of time and resources not to mention brainwashing into criminalizing you, scapegoating you, incarcerating you. Whats taking place now in this country is the blow-back of people struggling to still find a place in a society big on stereotypes. A fair shot is not because one can play golf or football or because some rich caucasian says it’s alright to let this one in. The people in power still play by the old world rules, No Obama doesn’t count as a cure all. Why is it this nation can admit that they still reap the benefits of slavery, but some of our blinder wearing citizens don’t admit to the damage it has caused. Why was it alright for confederate soldiers to fight back? There relatives embrace that history like an heirloom. But black people can’t point out the continued struggle. Nobody wants a handout, just stay the heck out of the way if you never had a struggle based off the pigment of your skin. And for the last time not every person of color thinks, eats dances talks, worships or dresses the same. Most of the time whats in common is people generalizing is some biased manor. Don’t take African- Americans words for it just put yourself in the shoes of any minority facing a struggle see if you could handle it. Watch the movie “White Mans Burden” Travolta Belafonte everything is switched. Maybe than you’ll get the idea.

    The story takes place in alternative America where the blacks are members of social elite, and whites are inhabitants of inner city ghettos. Louis Pinnock is a white worker in a chocolate factory, loving husband and father of two children. While delivering a package for black CEO Thaddeus Thomas, he is mistaken for a voyeur and, as a result, loses his job, gets beaten by black cops and his family gets evicted from their home. Desperate Pinnock takes a gun and kidnaps Thomas, demanding justice

    • Magnolia says:

      ANONYMOUSAY, what part of “I lived it” did you miss?

      We’re all struggling, nobody gets a pass because of color. Morality is color blind. No excuses, for anybody.

  10. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    @ Magnolia “We’re all struggling, nobody gets a pass because of color. Morality is color blind. No excuses, for anybody.”

    You made my point, if you don’t have a clue or you would understand that whoever, wherever there is a Majority in charge the minority will lose every time. Black President or not we know who still runs things. Little blue eyed Billy goes to court along with braided hair Tyrone, same charge guess what? nine times out ten Billy is going home. It’s funny Caucasions start to feel the economic crunch now all of a sudden the struggle is the same. Give me a break.

  11. Magnolia says:

    Anonymousay, did you grow up in LA? Do you know how the people there, the NEIGHBORS, felt when a few thugs burned the neighborhoods to the ground? Everything they’d worked for GONE? Stores wouldn’t come back?

    It’s always the troublemakers that make all the noise, while the decent people go on with their lives. In this case, the majority of people hurt by this were decent people.

    Don’t paint people with the same brush. We don’t all feel the hate you do.

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