Winsor & RL Fall Play Revisits the L.A. Riots of 1992

By Natalie P. ’23 and Gigi C. ’23

What makes a timeless story? And who decides what “the truth” is? This year’s joint Winsor and Roxbury Latin play, Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, addresses these questions. The upcoming production is based on the original one-woman play written and performed by Anna Deavere Smith. Smith is an American actress, playwright, and professor who incorporated a variety of diverse voices into one story through her unique take on the play. 

Centered around the Los Angeles riots invoked by the injustice of the Rodney King beating in 1992, the play is also about “relationships, but the thing that gets in the way of relationships is race,” as Gate Theatre puts it. After he was pulled over for drunk driving, Rodney King, a young Black man, was severely beaten by several LAPD officers. This case of police brutality made headlines across the nation after a video of the incident was recorded and shared by a witness. The predominantly white jury for the trial found the police officers not guilty of the charge, triggering an explosion of riots that felt “like the end of the world” (Gate Theatre). For many Americans, and especially Black Americans, the unjust treatment of King embodied the severe racial tension in America. Through Smith’s use of relative perspectives, the story of Rodney King is told and retold from different viewpoints and characters’ personal interpretations.

Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 is an intense play that is certainly difficult to perform for any group of actors. With the current COVID-19 safety procedures, the work has proven to be even more challenging.. Twilight will be Performing Arts Teacher and Drama Director Mr. Johnson’s third time directing a virtual production at Winsor, and he has learned more through each experience. One reason why he chose Twilight is because of its series of monologues that replace scenes. According to Mr. Johnson, “monologues allowed us to get through a rehearsal process and still safely observe all of the safety protocols.” To facilitate rehearsals with as much social distancing as possible, Mr. Johnson and his assistant director Maya B. ‘21 are working with one actor at a time on their individual soliloquies. While the two-on-one process is demanding, one of the unexpected benefits is that Mr. Johnson has “been able to really get to know the actors well.” Although RL and Winsor are collaborating on the same play, the actors from the two schools are working separately. While it may be difficult to “make the work look and feel as cohesive as possible,” Mr. Johnson enjoys working with other schools because it allows the program “to use the strongest actors from both schools and have them all work with directors that know them well.”

Despite the obvious differences between a virtual production and a physical one, actors from both schools are extremely excited about the play. Ellie C. ‘23 believes that because the script is verbatim of Smith’s interviews with the characters, the intriguing format “gives a lot more responsibility to the audience to interpret what the people are saying and figure out what they themselves believe about the riots.” This responsibility will certainly engage audiences and allow viewers to feel connected to the events portrayed in the story. John A. ‘23, a seasoned veteran of the RL theater program, is confident that the play will go smoothly. Currently, the RL cast is busy learning and practicing the delivery of their lines. While John notes that the virtual production will be a new experience for many students, he is proud of the “great cast and great group of people behind the scenes” that are working hard on the play. Through Zoom and Flipgrid, both schools will be able to film monologues one at a time on stage and then put the videos together. 

The heavy topics encompassed in the play reflect the severe racial injustices in America. The Black Lives Matter movement and the racial issues that it aims to address were significant sources of inspiration for the directors when they chose Twilight for the schools. Mr. Johnson knew that the play was fitting for Winsor students to study because of its “immediate relevance to the events of this past summer.” The growing BLM movement and calls for justice demanded an artistic response. On a community level, with the emergence of the Hidden Voices of Winsor, it felt extremely important to make sure our fall play represented a diverse group of voices and points of view.” The comparable connections between the play and ongoing events today further emphasize the need for unity and action in this country. While the abuse of Rodney King might have occurred almost three decades ago, police brutality and racial injustice continue to plague the United States. Twilight reminds audiences of the racial violence that is happening now and that has been happening in America for too long. 

This powerful and timely play is a must-watch for students, faculty, staff, and families alike. The play will be pre-recorded and shared with the Winsor and RL communities on November 20. Mr. Johnson hopes that the performance of Twilight will highlight the importance of unity, community, and advocacy, especially during this time of uncertainty. He is sure that “the audience is going to hear opinions from characters they don’t agree with as well as those they do. America is sadly lacking in empathy at the moment. We aren’t putting ourselves in one another’s shoes and trying to understand where others are coming from. This [message] is an essential part of what could eventually unite us as a nation again.”

The Winsor Cast 

Jessye Norman, an African American opera singer ——————————– Franchesca V. ‘22 

Angela King, Rodney King’s aunt —————————————————— Diamond H. ‘24

An anonymous young female student at USC ————————————— Sofia G. B. ‘24

Gina Rae, an African American community activist ———————————— Maita M. ‘22

Josie Morales, a clerk typist and a witness to Rodney King’s beating ———— Katherine T. ‘22

Katie Miller, an African American bookkeeper and accountant ——————- Diamond H. ‘24

Elaine Young, a real estate agent ———————————————————– Emily K. ‘22

Judith Tur, a ground reporter for the L.A. news service ———————————– Eva L. ‘24

Elvira Evers, a black woman from Panama, general worker and cashier ————— Ava H. ‘22

Mrs. June Park, wife of a Korean store owner who was shot during the riots ——– Ellie C. ‘23

Rev. Tom Choi, minister of a Presbyterian church in Westwood ——————- Margaret E. ‘21

Maxine Waters, an African American congresswoman ————————— Franchesca V. ‘22

Alice Waters, the chef at the Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley ——————– Grace A. ‘21

Elaine Brown, the former head of the Black Panther party —————————— Uche O. ‘22

Maria, a juror in the trial of the police officers ———————————————- Ava H. ‘22

Mrs. Young-Soon Han, a former liquor store owner ————————————– Jane H. ‘21