In 1992, I was a sophomore in high school in a little town in North Central Ohio. Surrounded by corn fields, tractors, and John Deere green, it wasn’t a very diverse community. I can’t remember a single African-American in my graduating class.
And so when what I have always called the “Rodney King Riots” happened, I didn’t really understand. I mean, I was aware enough to know why they were happening. White men beat a black man and people were outraged by the injustice. I also remember hearing about how King was on PCP and how he was resisting arrest and how we only saw what happened after the tape starting rolling.
I remember not being very empathetic to the plight of black people in America.
I moved to Cincinnati 1996 but it wasn’t until last year when I took a job working with a lot of inner city poor that I began to understand what it was like to be African-American. Well, as much as a someone from the white wheat fields of Richwood can possibly understand it.
Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much since 1992, as the recent events in Ferguson, MO have shown us. So, Diogenes Theater Company’s production of TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES, 1992 is relevant and timely.
And boy is it good.
Torie Wiggins stars as multiple characters, all real, with dialogue culled from interviews conducted with playwright Anna Deavere Smith. Much like THE LARAMIE PROJECT, this is a documentary-on-stage of sorts. But in Laramie, the cast is usually huge. In this show, Wiggins has the impossible task of embodying each very distinct personality and bringing them to life. There are political figures like Senator Bill Bradley, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and police chief Daryl Gates. There’s also Reginald Denny (which is the monologue that made me cry), Rodney King’s aunt, and a very funny woman named Katie.
In other roles, Wiggins often looks effortless on stage almost as it acting comes too easily to her. But in this marathon of a show, she is taxed with the burden of playing real people. She’s saying their actual words and uses different accents, body language, and amazing technique to bring each character to life. I have been a Wiggins fan since I first saw her in “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” Tonight she cemented my belief that she’s a Cincinnati treasure. We’re fortunate to have her here.
She’s directed by Brian Isaac Phillips and supported by stage manager, Justin McCombs, both from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, where Wiggins is also a company member. Rounding out the crew is sound and video designer Doug Borntrager, lighting designer Daniel R. Winters, and costumer Amanda McGee. Props are handled by Ally Landen. This is a CSC-heavy crew and their professionalism and cohesiveness shines through.
This is not a perfect show. At two and a half hours, its way too long. Some staging in Act Two made it difficult to see the actress as she was behind a table with chairs blocking the audiences’ view. And I was puzzled by an underscore in Act One that went on and on. But apart from these minor criticisms, this is a pretty wonderful piece of theatre.
And an important one, given our cultural climate. They say if we don’t learn from history, then we are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps its shows like this that will make our history more accessible to the masses and will ultimately save us from our own negativity, hatred, and rage. And with an acting acrobat like Torie Wiggins on stage, people can’t help but pay attention.
I couldn’t help but thank Torie after the show for her work here. But I also need to thank the playwright, the production team, and the real people she brings to life for not only giving me more insight to the burdens, trials, and sometimes joys of being an African-American. But also, TWILIGHT is a reminder that we need to stop, listen, and understand all people regardless of their color, nationality, or origin. This show gets my highest recommendation. Go see it.
TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES, 1992 runs through Sunday at the Aronoff Center’s 5/3 Theatre. Tickets can and more information can be found here.