Thomas W. Hodgkinson

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

By Anna Deavere Smith
Gate, London

A one-woman show about the Rodney King riots. A restricted space, in which yoghurt-pink polypropylene chairs are screwed to the floor anyhow. Strip lighting. Clouds of dry ice. This may not sound like a laugh riot, but then the LA riots weren’t. After white police officers were filmed beating a defenceless black man in 1991, their acquittal the following year triggered violence that left 63 dead. This play by Anna Deavere Smith was an early example of verbatim theatre, its script taken from interviews.

For the 1994 premiere, Smith was actor as well as author. In this lively revival, the chameleonic role is taken by young Nina Bowers — and she knocks it out of the park. Whether she’s playing a Korean liquor-store owner, a white truck driver who narrowly survived the violence or King’s outraged aunt (“Went through three plastic surgeons just to get Rodney to look like Rodney again”), she nails the accents and channels the spirits of the speakers like a medium at a séance.

This 90-minute version is shorter than the original, expertly edited by the director Ola Ince for a British audience. It’s the best kind of history lesson. It tells you: this is what people said. Then leaves you to make up your own mind.