On-Air Highlights

"Twilight: Los Angeles' returns on 20th anniversary of riots in aftermath of Rodney King verdict

Written by witf.org | Aug 15, 2012 11:00 AM

When Anna Deavere Smith’s drama Twilight: Los Angeles premiered in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum, it made national news for its unique and unflinching look at the fallout from the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Not only did Smith capture the tumultuous aftermath of the Rodney King trial verdict, she created a searing, innovative and truly American piece of theater.

On April 22, 2012, David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times book critic, assessing the literature of those riots, wrote, “the most comprehensive literary response to the riots remains Anna Deavere Smith’s ‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,’ a theater piece, written and performed by an outsider who channels the cacophony of voices at the city’s heart.”

With the recent passing of Rodney King and in the 20th anniversary year of the Los Angeles riots, Great Performances brings Smith’s remarkable dramatic work back to public television viewers across America when it presents an encore presentation of Marc Levin’s film adaptation of Twilight: Los Angeles on August 24 at 9 p.m. (Twilight: Los Angeles originally aired on PBS in 2001.)

In her acclaimed one-woman show, later directed by George C. Wolfe on Broadway, Smith gives voice to 40 real-life “characters,” from a Korean grocer to a Hollywood agent and a juror. Not “mimicry” in the traditional sense, her performance is an account of what and how these people spoke to her in hundreds of interviews. The New York Times has called Smith “the ultimate impressionist – she does people’s souls.”

In a film adaptation that interweaves Smith’s virtuoso performance with documentary interviews and footage of then contemporary Los Angeles, award-winning director Levin (Slam, Whiteboys, Thug Life in DC, Brick City, Street Time) deftly transforms Smith’s work from stage to screen.

Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles played around the U.S. and on Broadway. It received two Tony nominations, an Obie, Drama Desk Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle’s Special Citation and numerous other honors.

Developed for film and television and executive produced by Cherie Fortis (Fires in the Mirror, The Colored Museum) with cinematographer Maryse Alberti (Happiness, Velvet Goldmine) and Tony Award-winning production designer Richard Hoover (Dead Man Walking), Twilight: Los Angeles explores the lasting impact of the riots on our national conscience.

When the film first aired on PBS, John Crook, of TVData Features Syndicate, enthused, “No matter what your ethnic or political persuasion, give this program 15 minutes – literally, just 15 minutes – and you’ll find yourself completely spellbound by the artistry of this extraordinary actress…Most viewers will want to tape it because after watching it for the first time, they won’t entirely believe what they have just seen.”

Smith has been credited with creating a new form of theater. When granted the prestigious MacArthur Award, her work was described as “a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism and intimate reverie.” She has performed in film and TV as well as on stage. She currently plays Gloria Akalitus on Showtime’s hit series Nurse Jackie, and she’s well remembered for her role of national security advisor Nancy McNally on NBC’s The West Wing. Her major film credits include “The American President,” “Philadelphia,” and “Rachel Getting Married.” Her play Fires in the Mirror examined the Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn (1991), when racial tensions between black and Jewish neighbors exploded. It received an Obie Award, numerous other awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She performed the play around the U.S., in London and in Australia. The film version was also broadcast on PBS.


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