Twilight: Los Angeles

Nearly ten years after an all-white jury acquitted the four LAPD officers who beat African-American motorist Rodney King, the ensuing riots — which nearly destroyed South Central Los Angeles — have become part of the punch line to jokes about L.A. living, an inconvenience like earthquakes and mudslides. The second part of Anna Deavere Smith's...read more

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Nearly ten years after an all-white jury acquitted the four LAPD officers who beat African-American motorist Rodney King, the ensuing riots — which nearly destroyed South Central Los Angeles — have become part of the punch line to jokes about L.A. living, an

inconvenience like earthquakes and mudslides. The second part of Anna Deavere Smith's ongoing performance project On the Road: A Search for American Character, much of it captured here on video by director Marc Levin (SLAM), is an effective remedy to that diminution. The piece, originally

performed onstage just a year after the riots, sought to examine not just the riots themselves, but the character of the city in which they erupted. Smith's unique method involves interviewing wide cross-section of Angelenos whose lives were affected by the riots, then combining transcripts of

their testimonies into a carefully chosen series of short monologues. Amazingly, Smith is able to mimic everyone from a nipped-and-tucked Beverly Hills divorcee, latter-day gunslinger Charlton Heston and Congresswoman Maxine Waters to former LAPD police commissioner Daryl Gates, Rodney King's aunt

Angela, Reginald Denny, who was beaten by rioters, and one of his attackers, Henry Watson. Part documentary, part one-woman quick-change show and part sociological investigation, this is enthralling theater with a purpose: Like Twilight, an L.A. gang-member after whom the piece is named, Smith

seeks to find a place of empathy and understanding beyond herself and her own community. Interestingly, she saves her most powerful performance for a voice that largely went unheard during the riots' aftermath, a Korean-American woman whose own personal American dream was destroyed. The film

inserts valuable bits of news footage, including the still-shocking video of King's beating, and while the rough videography and the poor sound don't do justice to the power of Smith's presence, it's nevertheless a valuable record of a invaluable work.

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