Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

Los Angeles, 1992

Can it ever happen again?

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

Please be aware this production utilizes strong language and graphic images. Parental guidance is suggested.

Doors will be closed promptly at advertised start-time. No admittance is permitted until intermission due to the activity and seating on stage.

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 written by Anna Deavere Smith captures the identities of 36 famous, infamous and anonymous individuals linked to the direct aftermath of the acquittal of the four LAPD officers charged with assaulting Rodney King. Often referred to as documentary theatre, this production draws on traditions of oral history and is designed to promote discussion and social change, while giving voice to individuals who might otherwise go uncounted.

Directed by GVSU professor Michael Mueller

"Bears theatrical witness to the barbarity not just of violence but of envy, which in Los Angeles drives both rich and poor crazy.” People Magazine

November 13, 14, 19, 20, & 21 @ 7:30 p.m.

November 15 & 22 @ 2:00 p.m.

Adults $12.00, Seniors, Faculty, Alumni, & Staff $10.00, Students and groups $6.00

Tickets at the door are $1.00 additional. Tickets are all General Admission seating.

Call 616-331-2300 for more information and to purchase tickets via phone. Tickets may also be purchased through Startickets at 1-800-585-3737 or on-line at

Please join us for post show discussions immediately following each performance!

Please be aware this performance utilizes adult language and graphically violent images. Parental guidance is suggested.

This production is LIB100 & 201 approved.

Click here to print an order form!


Anna Deavere Smith is arguably the most influential playwright and performer in modern theatre. In addition to an impressive career in film and television, including “The West Wing” and “Nurse Jackie”, Smith is credited with creating a brand new form of theatre; a highly political and culturally significant documentary, gorilla theatre, which she often writes as a one-man show. Her work showcases many different hot, social topics representing multiple points of view. Smith’s work has been described best as, “a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.” The New York Times even wrote that she is “the ultimate impressionist. She does people’s souls.”

Smith is a professor at New York University, is the founding director of the Institute of the Arts and Civic Dialogue, she received the National Humanities Medal, presented to her by President Obama in 2013, holds two Tony award nominations and two Obie book awards. She holds more than eight honorary degrees from universities all over the United States, including Yale, Northwestern and Juilliard.

Anna Deavere Smith


“In May 1992 I was commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles to create a one-woman performance piece about the civil disturbances in that city the month before. Twilight: Los Angeles is the product of my search for the character of the city in the wake of the verdict in the first trial of the police officers accused in the beating of Rodney King—which, depending on your point of view, would be variously referred to as a “riot,” an “uprising,” and/or a “rebellion.” 

I have been particularly interested in how the events in Los Angeles give us an opportunity to take stock of the changing racial landscape in America. Since the 1992 riots, our attitudes about race have shifted. As the character Twilight Bey indicates to us, we are in “a twilight,” that time between day and night. Part of perceiving the light is seeing race as more than a black- and-white picture.

Where do theater and film fit into this? Theater and film can participate in civic discourse and even influence national attitudes by using the power of entertainment, spectacle, and dialogue. At a time when our national conversation about race has become, to some extent, merely fragments of monologues, Twilight: Los Angeles seeks to create a conversation from these fragments. It seeks to be a part of that conversation.

Creating Twilight was a particular challenge, because of the number and the diversity of the voices I gathered through interviews. I developed Twilight with the help of four other people of various races who functioned as dramaturges (a dramaturge is a person who assists in the preparation of the text of a play and can offer an outside perspective to those who are more active in the process of staging the play). These dramaturges brought their own real-world experience with race to bear on the work. They reacted to Twilight at every stage of its development.

My predominant concern about the creation of Twilight was that my own history, which is a history of race as a black and white struggle, would make the work narrower than it should be. For this reason, I sought out dramaturges who had very developed careers and identities outside the theater profession. I was interested not only in their ethnic diversity but also in their professional diversity. 

Among the people I asked to join me were Corinne Kondo, a Japanese American anthropologist and feminist scholar; Hector Tobar, a Guatemalan American reporter from the Los Angeles Times, and the African American poet and professor Elizabeth Alexander. Oskar Eustis, who is white and a resident director at the Mark Taper Theater, also joined the dramaturgical team. 

Many of our meetings were very emotional. They were dramas in and of themselves. The most outspoken members of the group were Corinne and Hector. They passionately attacked the black-and-white canvas that most of us in the room were inclined to perpetuate.

In the end, Twilight is a document of what I, as an actress, heard in Los Angeles. In creating a “social drama,” I am not proposing a specific solution to social problems. I turn that over to activists, scholars, legislators, and most importantly to the audience. As an actress, I am exploring the process of becoming something that I am not—the process of walking in someone else’s shoes. Laws and legislation can create a context in which we can work toward better relations with one another. Yet laws are limited in their ability to teach us how to move from an individual position to a larger community.

We need to reach for the core of our humanity with all its glory and all its challenges. I am seeking to illuminate something about humanness. The solutions lie not in my monologues but in the collaborative humanness of audience members who walk out of the theater with the potential to make change.

You anticipate me before the curtain goes up; I anticipate you as the curtain goes down. I await your dialogue, your dramatic action. Twilight has been created specifically to encourage dialogue across lines of power and race. More importantly, it has been created to encourage you to act and to move us further along on our American journey to get to “We the people.” Here is a place to start: Use the experience of seeing this film and the thoughts it evoked to start a conversation with someone whose race and social class are different from yours.”

Anna Deavere Smith


Events -
Midnight, a Sunday in March 1991 - George Holliday took a home video camera to record white Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King, a person of color. The tape played nationally and thus began a boiling outrage.

April 29, 1992 - after police officers indicted for the beating were brought to trial, the verdict was announced: they were acquitted and free from responsibility for the brutal beating. A handful of young African American men, in retaliation, set off fires, beat motorists and looted stores and offices. It was an “urban explosion” and it started a riot that would kill 51 people - 26 blacks, 14 Latinos, eight whites, two Asians, and one unknown. Property damage reached $1 billion, $1.7 billion in 2015. 

History of Racial Tension in Los Angeles -
1920s: 95% of Los Angeles city’s housing stock was restricted, leaving Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans cramped and quartered where they competed for
housing, jobs and services.

1929 - 1941: during the years of the Great Depression the United States government claimed that it would deport 400,000 foreign nationals at a moments notice. About 20,000 of those foreign nationals lived in Los Angeles. It is estimated that between 3,000 and 4,000 Mexicans, American citizens, were held without legal counsel before being shipped back to Mexico between 1929 and 1941. Raids like this occurred frequently.

1942: in Los Angeles, the Japanese were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to Santa Anita racetrack before being sent to relocation camps. Very few protested or helped them. Interment camps were built all over America during the Second World War.

1940s: “zoot suits”, a huge fashion staple of the period worn mostly by Mexicans and people of color, were wrongfully targeted by the police as criminals. 22 “zoot suiters” were arrested on murder charges but the verdict was later overturned and all the prisoners were released.

1968: “A California Highway Patrol officer arrested a twenty-one-year-old black man on suspicion of drunk driving. A crowd gathered. Other officers arrived; someone spit on them. They grabbed a black woman who wore a smock that resembled a maternity dress. Rocks flew. The officers fled.” Violence erupted over the next few days. 34 people were dead and 1000 wounded by the end and 4000 people were under arrest.

1960s: tensions between Korean Americans and African Americans ran high as the rate of Korean immigrants increased enormously. Considering the Koreans were fairly new to the United States, and the black population had barely scratched the surface of their civil rights war, agitation ran high.

1991: a Korean shopkeeper Ja Du shot Latasha Harlins in the back over an argument about a bottle of orange juice. Ja Du was sentenced to five years probation, 400 hours of community service and a $500 fine. The black community was outraged at the judge’s leniency. Tensions continued to rise between the races.

1992: the LA riots were ignited by the brutal police beating of Rodney King.


New York City, NY 10/20/2015 - Officer Randolph Holder, 33, was shot in the head during a gun battle in East Harlem. Holder was responding to reports of gunfire at a housing project. He and another officer, in plainclothes, were pursuing a suspect near a pedestrian overpass when the exchange of gunfire took place.

Officer Holder

Baltimore, MD 2015 - on April 19, 2015, 25-year-old Freddie Gray died of a severe spinal injury a week after being arrested by police. Officers claim he had a switchblade in his pocket, but whether or not Gray was armed remains a mystery. A video was shot by a civilian bystander which shows officers dragging a limp Gray after he was handcuffed. Officials say that he was able to get into the back of the police van, where an officer put him in leg restraints on the way to the police station. By the time they reached the station, Gray wasn’t breathing. Officers say they don’t know when Gray was injured, but they did admit to wrong doing. All six involved officers have since been suspended. Riots are still ongoing.

Freddie Gray

Ferguson, MO 2014 - on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer in a suburb of St. Louis. The officer, Darren Wilson, was not indicted for the incident, setting off riots and protests leading to significant damage at City Hall, a burning police car and stolen weapons. Thankfully, many protests around the nation were peaceful, yet tear gas was still used and arrests of protestors.

Michael Brown

Cleveland, OH 2014 - 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed on November 22nd by police officers who responded to a call that a juvenile was seen at a recreation center with a gun. Tamar was playing with a Colt 1911 air pistol. There is no video or audio tapes of the incident and it still remains unclear whether the officers spoke with Rice before opening fire. Considering it was discovered that the young boy was killed at close range, the incident continues to receive fierce protests.

Tamar Rice

Staten Island, NY 2014 - Eric Garner is being arrested a few blocks from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal on July 17 for selling loose cigarettes. After refusing, non violently, to be arrested, officers put him in a chokehold, a maneuver which is forbidden under police rules. After crying out “I can’t breathe” 11 times, Garner dies. A video of the incident is captured by a bystander. Just two weeks later, Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO is shot.

Eric Garner

Florida 2012 - on the night of February 26, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin went to a 7-Eleven to buy a bag of skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea. He never made it back to home of his father’s fiancé. At some point on his walk back, he encountered George Zimmerman, a 28 year-old neighborhood watch volunteer. The actual events of that night are hotly debated, but we do know that Zimmerman disobeyed 911 dispatches orders, a witness claims they heard a man yelling “Help” 38 times and several witnesses heard a gunshot. Martin was unarmed and Zimmerman was carrying a 9mm semiautomatic. While George Zimmerman is a white Hispanic and Trayvon Martin was African American, the details of that night are a mystery. But it caused a huge uproar, and continues to be argued about today.

Treyvon Martin

Cincinnati, OH 2001 - at 2:00am on Saturday, April 7, teenager Timothy Thomas was spotted by two Cincinnati police officers and began running through Over-the Rhine, a notoriously drug infested and dangerous neighborhood. He was wanted for 14 warrants and for evading arrest. In the dark of the night, officer Steve Roach saw Timothy reach for his waistband. Roach shot Timothy in the chest and killed him. Riots quickly followed.

Timothy Thomas


Guide to Twilight: Los Angeles.
Anna Deavere Smith. Ted Talks.
Big Think online - 

“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” - PBS online.
“Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots” - VH1 Rock Documentary, 2012
“Rodney King beating and riots” - CNN Documentary, 2011. Youtube.
“Clash of Colors” - Documentary from the Korean-American perspective, 2012. Youtube.
“The LA Riots 20 Years Later” - KCAL 9 and CBS 2 Special Segment, 2012. Youtube.

The Los Angeles Riots and Rodney King by The New York Times, ebook
The Riot Within by Rodney King and Lawrence J. Spagnola, 2012
Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD by Lou Cannon, 1998

Ferguson: America’s Breaking Point by Tim Suereth, 2015
Ferguson In Black and White by Jeff Smith, free on kindle
The Ferguson Report: Department of Justice Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department by United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, 2015

Page last modified August 7, 2018