The Nevada Conservatory Theatre in Las Vegas has mounted a production of a play that still packs an emotion punch, more than 20 years after it was first staged.
The play is “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992" by Anna Deavere Smith. It's about the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, and its aftermath.
This production is being performed as a one-woman show by Maythinee Washington playing dozens of characters. The director is Christopher Edwards.
Did you come to the Nevada Conservatory Theatre with this idea or did they come to you?
I felt very powerless sitting behind the computer and reading about what was happening in Ferguson. And I wanted to – like many artists – have a creative response but I was not in a position where I felt like I could create something. That was the seedling: what can I do and what art can I make.
On “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992”:
It is a verbatim play. It is based on interviews she had conducted. Most of her work is based on interviews… This play has to do with the riots in LA almost 25 years ago.
Have we moved forward from Rodney King in 1992?
I would say yes and no. I would say that in larger history, in the grand scheme of larger history, 25 year is not a very long time. And I think that in many ways the video taping of Rodney King being beaten was a prototype for what we see now.
At the time, what really came to fore is not that this doesn’t happen. It is not that this is new. It’s that it’s been recorded. And I think that with social media and the virality of social media, the pervasiveness, the ubiquitousness of social media that is why Black Lives Matter as come to the fore. That is why these incidents we are made aware of them close to instantaneously.
Are you having conversations before or after the performance?
Absolutely. So we’ll have a talk back after every single performance. There are four shows. Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. It is at the Paul Harris Theater on the campus of UNLV.
This has been performed as a one-person play and with an ensemble cast. What made you choose to perform all the roles?
Honestly, because it is the hardest thing I could conceive of doing! That feels like such a cliché, thinking about all those times I’ve watched actors that I have admired say in interviews they chose what they were working on because it scared them. That is really why I choose to work on this.
Because the material is so rich. It is so challenging. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface and as soon as I have an audience I’m going to learn more about how much more I need to do.
What have you learned from these characters? These 25 year old characters?
They don’t feel very far away, first of all. I don’t think. I think the privilege of stepping into these people really tests me. Really tests me on empathy. Really walking my talk. As far as, feeling what it is like to inhabit circumstances and opinions that I’ve never experienced or that I don’t agree with.
There are number of characters in this play and you have to play all of them, which was the hardest for you to play?
I think the hardest character for me to play is Walter Park. And even thinking about it makes me want to cry. He could be one of my relatives. He was effectively lobotomized by being shot at close range. And his son, who I also play and his wife who I also play, are dealing with this. His son is a medical student. So he understands. He’s coming to grips with this thing you understand theoretically and the removal you must have to prepare to be a doctor because you see a lot.
His father is dealing with: he knows what his life was before but he can’t quit grasp onto what is missing. I think that dichotomy is challenging.
On the play’s larger theme of identity:
The reason this show scares me is because this is about identity. A lot of the issues have to do with how we see one another and how we see one another is different. And how we can’t quite make the empathetic leap to be in someone else’s shoes. To imagine what it is like to deal with historical, socio-political contexts that manifest themselves with the case of Rodney King with batons and kicks and punches.
Maythinee Washington, actor
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