Aftershocks from the 1992 Los Angeles riots, with 63 dead, more than 12,000 arrested and $1 billion in property damage, still resonate today. Six days of violent civil disturbance was sparked by the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of Black citizen Rodney King the year before. Because that incident had been captured on videotape, the outrage over the cops’ release was explosive.
At Tampa’s Jobsite Theater, actress Andresia Moseley is heading onstage this week in a unique one-woman performance capturing the mood – the tension, the outrage, the occasionally cockeyed sociological philosophy – of the King beating, the police acquittal, and the subsequent violence.
Everybody had an opinion. Everybody had a voice.
Written by Anna Deveare Smith from some 300 interviews with Los Angelinos, Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 offers varying perspectives – 27 of them, in fact – on what happened, why it happened and what it all meant.
In the age of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, Moseley believes, Twilight is as relevant as ever.
“Theater has always been one of the routes where, if I’m lucky, I get to do pieces that inform,” she says. “That have a bigger meaning than me just walking around and entertaining folks. Both are fine, but as an individual I’m pretty straightforward.
“And I love to teach, so here’s the opportunity to actually give you a very forward lesson, that has something directly to do with an incident that shook the world – and continues to shake.”
Smith’s “verbatim theater” piece, winner of the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show, is a series of monologues. Onstage, Moseley “becomes” police chief Daryl Gates, several L.A. community activists, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, truck driver Reginald Denny (a victim of mob violence), a woman who watched the King beating from her apartment window, self-centered publicists, average citizens and Korean grocers who were directly impacted by the rioting.
And quite a few others, from various walks of life, who offer their own perspectives. She uses body language, costuming and changing voices to depict each character; many of the monologues are bridged by videos of TV coverage from the day.
“A lot of times,” Moseley says, “there’s only one narrator to these kinds of stories. Or you just usually get the Black and the white side. So her introduction of the Asian community, and her introduction of other people as far as class systems, there are so many eyes on it and so many opinions, I think she really introduces generally what the public thinks. And we can’t get it in one thought. We can’t get it in one race, and we can’t get it in one person.”
Much of the “testimony” is difficult – one officer, a specialist in the use of batons, speculates that if King had been hit more aggressively, the whole thing would have been over in a matter of seconds. Gates is oblivious (he retired after taking much of the heat for what happened). Some is terribly sad. And some people offer absolutely nothing; such is life.
Moseley doesn’t think anyone with a set-in-stone opinion will get their mind changed by the performance; however, “it makes the audience sit down and concentrate and listen to someone else’s opinion. And whether they agree with it or not, is not the point. The point is that a lot of the things that are being said, if it’s not your opinion you’re not going to sit down and listen to. In your normal life. What we hope the audience walks away with is hearing it from everybody else’s side.”
Twilight is the final show in Jobsite’s 2022-23 season, which has been devoted to reprisals of popular productions from past years. Moseley first performed Twilight in 2020, one of Jobsite’s first tentative peeks into a post-pandemic universe.
Moseley, and director David M. Jenkins, have done some tweaking since that first production.
“There were some things that I did not see,” the actress explains. “I didn’t have the capacity to see or do or emphasize, or maybe the emotional bandwidth to handle it at that time. So a lot of them now are differently-intended: ‘What are you saying, good or bad, right or wrong?’ I am seeing some different things in intention.”
Optimistically, if it changes one person’s opinion, she’s done her job. “And maybe we can live in a more harmonious world. I know I’m reaching, but maybe I can assist or help in a small way, with this small thing that I do, to help get us there.”
Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 runs Aug. 18-27 in the Shimberg Playhouse, at the David A. Straz Center. Preview performance Aug. 16 and 17. Find tickets and additional information here.