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Theatre Review: "Twilight LA" is Thought-Provoking, Riveting

If you long for thought-provoking theatre in riveting performance – waste no time in getting to the Aronoff’s Fifth Third Theater – and remembering the name Diogenes Theatre Company.
 
In a short run through Sunday, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is Anna Deavere Smith’s docu-drama solo performance with top-notch local actress Torie Wiggins a knock-out as she breathes life into a mosaic of Los Angeles residents talking about the Rodney King beating by L.A. police, the trial, the days of rioting that followed.
 
Diogenes Theatre’s production was in the works long before Ferguson and Eric Garner – which sadly speaks to the reality that 20-plus years later, not enough has changed. But past and present are clearly on the mind of director Brian Isaac Phillips. 
 
When you enter the theater, the words ‘I Can’t Breathe’, ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ and ‘No Justice/No Peace’ are shown in large letters on the overhead screen.
 
There’s no arguing that the recent wave of incidents between African-American men and police gives a 20-year old play, spellbinding in its debut, an immediacy that is just as spellbinding. 
 
The Twilight script is the result of hundreds of hours of interviews by the playwright. Every person Smith showcases look at the events through different lenses -- their comments are verbatim. 
 
Wiggins introduces us to – neighborhood eyewitnesses, a former police commissioner, an airhead realtor living in a Beverly Hills bubble, an opinionated and clear-eyed black woman, Korean store owners (the wife shot an African-American girl suspected of shoplifting. Their African-American attorney.  
 
You will lean into Wiggins’ performance. 
 
Her performance gallery includes men, women, young, old, white, black, Mexican, Central American. A pregnant woman who left her house to see the excitement and got a bullet as a souvenir. A community activist. The police chief who was at a fundraiser (“I wouldn’t call it a fundraiser…”) as the rioting began. 
 
A member of the jury that largely acquitted police.
 
As characters speak for themselves, there’s a clear portrait of class and race. 
 
Phillips (who also directed the current The Handmaid’s Tale at Know) brought Twilight to producer Jeffrey Landen. There’s a tight partnership with Cincinnati Shakespeare – CSC fans will recognize names of designers and crew.
 
Phillips keeps the atmosphere charged and the action in tight focus as Wiggins moves around the spare stage. There’s a wooden table filled with bits of clothing (a cap, a tie, a jacket, a shawl among the items used to personify the characters), a half-dozen high-backed wooden chairs, widely spaced across the playing area. 
 
There’s quietly strong support from sound and video designer Doug Borntrager, and lighting designer Daniel R. Winters. For everyone who has lost the Rodney King beating in the mists of time – on opening night the Fifth Third was filled with students who weren’t even born then – the overhead screen fills with the footage of his beating by four officers.
 
You probably haven’t heard of Diogenes, but the tiny new company is committed to smart, serious plays and giving new opportunities for local professionals to work. Three more productions are promised through July. 
 
Next up is Ariel Dorfman’s powerful Death and the Maiden, opening in April.
 
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, through Sunday. Diogenes Theatre Company, Fifth Third Bank Theater, Aronoff Center for the Arts, Seventh and Main streets, Downtown. 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $29 adults, $15 students. 513-621-2787 and here.
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
 
Photo provided (by Daniel R. Winters)
 
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