Anna Deavere Smith

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

  • 67-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 5 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a PhD in American History
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Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 67-page guide for “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” by Anna Deavere Smith includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 5 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Racial Discrimination and Structural Iniquity and What Counts as Justice.

Plot Summary

Anna Deavere Smith’s solo play relives three tumultuous days of rioting in Los Angeles in the wake of the first Rodney King verdict, issued April 29, 1992, when four, white Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted of charges of assault and police brutality in connection with King’s roadside arrest and beating on March 3, 1991. Caught on video, the King assault became a national media sensation, a disturbing vision of black-white race relations, and a rallying cry for racial justice. As festering anger and frustration exploded after the verdict—once again to be captured vividly on screen—onlookers were left to wonder how far, if at all, the country had traveled since the epidemic of urban race riots in the late 1960s. (Throughout the play, the 1965 Watts riot in Los Angeles—which prompted the McCone Commission to ameliorate conditions in black ghettos—is a conspicuous reference point.)

Approaching this seminal event through the lens of “documentary theater,” Smith chooses to let the people of Los Angeles speak for themselves, literally and comprehensively. As culled from some 200 personally-conducted interviews, Smith presents and adapts the voices of scores of participants, bystanders, and commentators—the famous and the anonymous—to produce a diverse and kaleidoscopic vision not only of the event itself but of American race relations at the close of the twentieth century. It is, in a very real sense, an historical document of an historic event. In style and approach, Smith’s play bears comparison with oral histories like those gathered by Studs Terkel on World War II and the Great Depression (The Good War (1984); Hard Times (1970)) or Christian Appy, on the Vietnam War (Patriots (2003)). Indeed, the text derives verbatim from the interview transcripts of these real-life actors. Yet Smith’s hand and artistry is evident, as she edits and assembles the transcripts into a narrative that builds, replete with stage directions and cues, successively from character to character, and theme to theme.

Even on the written page, the parsing of interview transcripts into lines of poetry suggests a theatricality and continuity absent in other oral histories. Smith’s genre-bending approach (Is it theater or documentary? Art or journalism? History or performance?) calls proper categorization into question, yet the effect is clear: Twilight, on stage and on the page, allows the reader/audience to hear the voices of a wide range of their fellow citizens, raw and unadorned, in the process reliving a landmark historical event and recapturing the mood of the particular time and place out of which it emerged. The play, like most effective art, asks far more questions than it answers—questions that remain just as unanswered and every bit as necessary today as they did then.

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