Anna Deavere Smith Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Anna Deavere Smith Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

Award: OBIE Award for Best New American Play

Born in 1950, Smith is an American playwright and performer.

Twilight (1993) is comprised of excerpts from interviews Smith conducted with numerous people following the April 1992 race riots in Los Angeles. The disturbance began after four white police officers who had been accused of severely beating a black man, Rodney King, were legally acquitted of any wrongdoing. The following uproar, which lasted for five days, resulted in widespread violence and looting throughout the city. In what is often referred to as her "one-woman show," Smith re-enacts many of the 175 interviews she conducted with various participants, protagonists, and bystanders. Smith performs the words of each character verbatim, assuming over twenty personas over the length of the play. Notable among these are former Los Angeles Police Department chief Daryl F. Gates, who was blamed for willfully ignoring the widespread violence; truck driver Reginald O. Denny, a white man who was severely beaten during the riots; and Maria, a member of the federal civil-rights jury which ultimately found the officers guilty. While Twilight, which is part of Smith's On the Road: A Search for American Character series, has sometimes been regarded more as a work of documentary than of theater, Smith has garnered much praise for her moving, thought-provoking, and realistic depiction of the social and psychological effects of the race riots on a diverse segment of Los Angeles's population. Critic Greg Evans has hailed Smith as a "profound talent" who "gives absolutely equitable and eloquent voice to the myriad communities touched by the riots and to individuals who otherwise would go uncounted."