Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

by Anna Deavere Smith

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2223

Although Smith interviewed about 175 people in her research for Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, in the published work containing their monologues she includes just under a third of them. In any given performance of her play, she further limits the number of persons depicted but had included some who are not in the published work. An example is Maria, Juror #7 in the second Rodney King trial, who was interviewed and added to the Mark Taper Forum production of the play two weeks after it opened. Another example is the opera diva Jessye Norman.

There is actually no set cast of characters in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. As she deems appropriate, Smith selects the cast from her gallery of choices both to fit her specific audience and her artistic aims of the moment.

Theresa Allison The founder of Mothers Reclaiming our Children (Mothers ROC), Theresa Allison is also the mother of gang-truce negotiator Dewayne Holmes. She explains that her organization started after the killing of her nephew, Tiny, who was shot in the face. She speaks of the unjust system, and her belief that Tiny was actually shot by officers dressed as gang members, two of whom she calls "Cagney and Lacey." She recalls the day of the shooting as looking "like the crucifixion of Jesus." It was a day, too, that changed some happy people to "hurting people." She goes on to tell how her son, Dewayne, was arrested and how she and her friends surrounded the police cruiser, fearful that the cops wanted to kill him. He was set free but was marked thereafter and was eventually picked up and sentenced for a crime that Theresa insists he did not commit.

Anonymous man An unnamed white juror in the first Rodney King trial, this soft-spoken man breaks into tears as he recalls his ambivalent feelings about the verdict and its aftermath. He speaks of the personal confusion and the threats on his life. Most agonizing was a letter received from the KKK offering the jurors its support and extending an offer of membership. That invitation shamed the man and left him remorseful.

Twilight Bey A slight, graceful young black, Twilight Bey is a member of the Crips gang and one of the organizers of the truce between the Crips and the Bloods, a rival gang. He speaks very confidently of his youth, as a community "watchdog," and of the significance of his name as indicating that he has "twice the knowledge of those my age." He relates his name to the idea of limbo, as somehow being caught in a place ahead of his time, and he talks about what he sees at night, the drug-addicted "walking dead'' and the young kids beating up elderly people at bus stops. He is also the titular character of the play, partly because what he says about limbo—a place between darkness and understanding—is an appropriate thematic metaphor for the entire work.

BigAlSee Allen Cooper

Elaine Brown A woman in her early fifties, Elaine Brown is the former head of the Black Panther Party and author of A Taste of Power. She grieves over the fact that the protesters took to the street with no plan, just rage. She says that commitment must be based "not on hate but on love," and that change cannot be brought about by a "piss-poor, ragtag, unorganized, poorly armed" and "poorly led army."

Allen Cooper A large, ex-gang member and former convict, Big Al is an activist in the nation-wide trace movement. He offers a defensive litany on life in the LA...

(This entire section contains 2223 words.)

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ghetto, where even a bubble gum machine packs a gun and nothing spells trouble 'til the black man gets his hands on it." He repeatedly says, "You gotta look at history, baby." He sees the African American as victim, and questions whether Reginald Denny might have driven his truck into the black neighborhood as an ''intimidation move."

Reginald O. Denny Reginald Denny, the white truck driver beaten and shot at during the LA riot, describes what little he remembers of the experience. He is "upbeat" and "speaks loudly." He admits to being unaware of the King verdict and its aftermath until visitors came to speak with him at the Daniel Freeman Hospital. He talks about Jesse Jackson, Arsemo Hall, and the four people who rescued him—Titus, Bobby, Terry, and Lee—with whom he feels "a weird common thread in our lives." He describes what he has seen on video tapes and what his rescuers have told him. He talks about a room in a future house that will be a memorial, "a happy room," one where "there won't be a color problem." Denny seems hopeful and remarkably free of bitterness.

Sergeant Charles Duke Sergeant Charles Duke is a member of the LAPD Special Weapons and Tactics Unit and a defense witness in both trials of the officers who beat Rodney King. Duke explains that Officer Laurence Powell mishandled his baton while beating Rodney King, making his blows weak and ineffective. He laments that "upper-body control holds'' were outlawed in 1982 as inhumane, even though they provided a better method of subduing suspects on drugs. He relates, too, that he had tried to find alternatives to the use of batons but was rebuked for his efforts. He believes that Chief Daryl Gates wanted to provoke a law suit to prove that the City Council and Police Commission had made a mistake in banning older choke holds techniques.

Elvira Evers Elvira Evers is a Panamanian woman, who, during the rioting, while pregnant, is shot and taken by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital. Doctors operate to trace the bullet's course and deliver her baby girl via Caesarean section. The baby has the bullet lodged in her elbow, but it is successfully removed. Describing the events, Elvira remains remarkably unemotional.

Daryl F. Gates Daryl F. Gates, Chief of the LAPD during the rioting, attempts to explains his absence from his post after the verdict in the first Rodney King trial. He was meeting with a group opposed to Proposition F, but claims to have been in constant contact with his office. He admits that he should have left immediately, but doubts that his presence in LA would have mattered. "I should have been smarter," he confesses, but primarily because he gave his critics ammunition to use against him. He resents having become "the symbol of police oppression in the United States," and finds it very unjust.

Mrs. Young-Soon Han A Korean immigrant and former owner of a liquor store, Mrs. Han angrily remarks on the treatment and status of Korean Americans. She bitterly argues that black Americans fare better, and then talks of justice and violence. Although she wishes that Asians and blacks could live together, she sees "too much differences'' preventing community peace and harmony—a fire that "can burst out anytime."

Angela King Angela King, the aunt of Rodney King, in a relatively long monologue, relates her unsettled family life to the film Carmen, starring Dorothy Dandndge and Harry Belafonte. She discusses her closeness with her brother, Rodney's father, recalling childhood anecdotes. She explains that they were raised without racial hatred and that now she seeks justice for the beating of her nephew. She is particularly upset by the defendants' lack of remorse and the efforts of the authorities "to make you look bad to the people." She is convinced her phone is tapped but that there is nothing she can do about it.

Maria Juror #7 in the second Rodney King trial, Maria, a lively black woman, gives an account of her fellow jurors, whom she mercifully parodies as "brain-dead." She gives hilarious description of the group's interactive workings as they strive to cooperate in their joint litigation as jurors.

Julio Menjivar A native of El Salvador, Julio Menjivar is a man n his late twenties. A bystander, he describes the arrival and behavior of the National Guard during the unrest, claiming that guardsmen almost shot his mother, sister, and wife, then rounded the residents up and hauled them by bus to jail. He describes his fright, his prayers, and his unhappiness with having a criminal record.

Paul Parker Paul Parker, the Chairperson of the Free the L. A. Four Plus Defense Committee, argues that the defendants charged with attacking Reginald Denny were victimized because it was a black-on-white affair, and that the authorities would go "any extremes necessary" to gain a conviction. He takes intense pride in his African-American heritage, and warns that as long as there is no justice for blacks, there will be no peace for whites.

Rudy Salas, Sr. Rudy Salas, Sr., a sculptor and painter, is a large man of Mexican descent. Partly deaf, he wears a hearing aid in both ears. His deafness resulted from a police beating back in the 1940s. Rudy retains hatred for "gringo" policemen and other whites, whom he refers to as "my enemy.'' He calls the feeling "insanity," and knows it is a waste, but he can not help it. He is convinced that whites fear "people of color," and he relishes their discomfort. He indicates that his hatred has been fortified by the experiences of his sons.

Second anonymous man This well-dressed, handsome man, an unidentified Hollywood agent, starts out by remarking that the anticipated unrest from the King trial verdict did not at first dampen his "business as usual" activities. He noted the gossip and tension among his white, upper-middle class associates, but panic did not set in until the rioting began, when the flight of working whites from downtown LA lacked only "Godzilla behind them.'' He admits that the verdict was unfair, and that he started to "absorb a little guilt." He was saddened by the television coverage showing people destroying their own neighborhoods.

Katie Miller A big black woman with a powerful voice, Katie Miller claims that the looters and vandals in Koreatown were not blacks but Mexicans. Although she did not engage in looting, she went "touring" with friends after the rioting. She is sarcastic and very angry with local newscaster Paul Moyer because he called the looters of an I. Magnin store "thugs." She is outraged because the media seem to suggest that looting in the poor sections of LA was vindicated, but not in "a store that rich people go to."

Stanley K. Sheinbaum Stanley K. Sheinbaum, former president of the LA Police Commission, is seventy-three, with "the smile and laugh of a highly spirited, joyous, old woman." He speaks in two monologues In the first, he talks of "these curious people," the gang members at a truce meeting he had witnessed with Congresswoman Maxine Walters. He is troubled by the assumption that the gangs are always the enemy, and that he must be on a side that prevents understanding. In the second monologue, he recalls driving downtown after the King verdict and seeing a black woman driving on the freeway holding a hammer in her hand, which spelled "trouble." He recalls encountering Chief Daryl Gates leaving the police garage as he arrived, then being inside LAPD headquarters when the first rock came through a plate-glass window.

Judith Tur A ground reporter, Judith Tur gives a running commentary on the beating of Reginald Denny as video taped from a helicopter by John and Marika Tur, She describes the event as "like being in a war zone," and becomes very angry at the "real brave men" who beat and tried to shoot Denny. She tells of her own hard life to explain why she has little sympathy for the rioters, who, she charges, are "really taking advantage."

Maxine Waters Maxine Waters is a U. S. Representative from the 35th District in California, representing South-Central LA. She is an "elegant" woman and powerful orator. She vents her anger with Washington's insensitivity to inner-city problems and describes how she crashed an exclusive White House meeting on the issue to speak her mind to President Bush.

Henry Keith Watson One of the L.A. Four accused in the attack on Reginald Denny, Keith Watson, twenty-nine, escaped punishment when acquitted in the subsequent trial in October of 1993. Defending his anger and the burning and looting of the rioters, he says that "justice didn't work."

Cornel West A scholar, Cornel West relates the civil turmoil to analogous issues, including the frontier and the gunfighter and the "deep machismo ethic" of a "gangsterous orientation" seen in the character of Sylvester Stallone's Rambo and rap music. He argues that blacks are "playing exactly the same game," attempting to "out-brutalize the police brutality." He notes that black women remain subjugated because of the machismo and laments the end of the Black Panther movement and the loss of the "internationalism and multiracialism'' that it represented. He maintains that "conservative forces" have held the civil rights movement in disarray.

Elaine Young An experienced realtor, Elaine Young has sold many homes to Hollywood stars. She has also received publicity because of her problems with silicone implants. During the rioting, fearful of being alone, she goes to the Beverly Hills Hotel, staying until early morning on three consecutive days. After being interviewed at the Polo Lounge, she receives an accusative letter from a man who calls her "a dumb shit bimbo'' for her flippant lack of concern over the unrest. That clearly upsets her.




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