Review: ‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992’ at Rep Stage

Thanks to some first-rate shape-shifting at Rep Stage, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is almost as much a work of animation as it is a documentary. Oh, and let’s not forget magic act. Danielle A. Drakes simply vanishes into each of the characters we meet in Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman play.

Danielle A. Drakes in the one-woman play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Photo by Katie Simmons-Barth.
Danielle A. Drakes in the one-woman play ‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.’ Photo by Katie Simmons-Barth.

Smith’s acclaimed 1994 work defined a new genre called “verbatim theater.” She interviewed hundreds of real people whose lives were affected by the 1992 beating of Rodney King, his trial and its aftermath. She then used their own words as a sort of pointillist text to paint the picture of a tragedy.

Sometimes it takes a pen and an imagination to get into spaces where news cameras just can’t go.

Take for instance Angela King, Rodney King’s aunt, who shares with us the delight she felt watching her 16-year-old nephew wrestle a trout from a stream with his bare hands. Those gifted hands would later prove useless against a barrage of police batons.

Or take Juror #7, identified only as Maria. She nervously rearranges the jurists’ chairs while acknowledging how important she found some of the more human facts that never made it before a judge.

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 does not claim to present the case for or against Rodney King, nor does it condone the riots that followed the trial. But it does raise again the pertinent question of whose set of facts rule the day.

Danielle A. Drakes in the one-woman play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Photo by Katie Simmons-Barth.
Danielle A. Drakes in the one-woman play ‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.’ Photo by Katie Simmons-Barth.

The night’s most emotionally affective testimony comes from a pregnant woman wounded by a stray bullet. Her calm account of driving through the war-torn L.A. streets to get her unborn baby to an emergency room makes its own unforgettable impact.

Director Paige Hernandez keeps the inquiry vital and alive throughout with masterfully dynamic staging. When Drakes isn’t dumping wastebaskets or scattering desk papers to the wind, she is roaming up and over the thrust stage on catwalks to unfurl flags and broadcast her rage.

Speaking of broadcasts, the intimate Studio Theatre at Howard Community College has been turned into a sort of 1990s media center by Scenic Designer Debra Kim Sivigny. The edifice of scaffolds is hung with dozens of TV-like screens that suggest a veritable wasp’s-eye view of the ongoing coverage.

Lighting Designer Sarah Tundermann’s astute projection design is always on the mark here, as is the complex sound design of Hope Villanueva.

Enough cannot be said, though, for that amazing solo performance by Danielle A. Drakes. Whether playing famous figures like Police Chief Daryl Gates and Congresswoman Maxine Waters or unknown bystanders like real estate agents and Korean shopkeepers, Drakes keeps the illusion of a crammed stage going for a fast and riveting 110 minutes.

This is another timely rescue from the past by Producing Artistic Director Joseph A. Ritsch. Congratulations are again in order for all the heartfelt good work by the crew at Rep Stage. Free post-show discussions will be held on March 3 and 15, and there will be one special pre-show lecture on March 16 that should provide its own rewards.

Running Time: About 110 minutes with one intermission.

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 plays at Rep Stage through March 17, 2019, in the Studio Theatre of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College — 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets go online.