Sunday, March 26, 2017

Getting Along for Good

Have we made no progress in 25 years?

That could have been the theme for TheatreLAB's production of "Twilight: Los Angeles 1992" about the Rodney King beating and ensuing riots and also my first foray into verbatim theater, a genre I didn't even know existed.

Playwright Anna Deavere Smith had used interviews with people associated with the events - everyone from the police chief to King's aunt to a Korean woman whose husband was attacked - as a way of gathering monologues for the one-woman show.

I had gathered up a favorite photographer who also remembered the historic events so I'd have a companion to discuss the play with afterward. No point in going with someone who was in elementary school during the seminal events.

Fortunately for the audience, that one woman was Katrinah Carol Lewis, a fierce presence who with each monologue and minimal costume change managed to display a different take on the crucial events, each distinct, memorable and tragic in his or her own way.

It was while she was playing a Mexican sculptor that the audience nervously laughed when she said, "I'm not a racist. I have white friends," one of those decidedly uncomfortable moments for anyone who recognizes how common that particular justification is despite its meaninglessness.

On the other hand, it was infuriating to hear one of the white jurors at the trial (of the cops who beat King 56 times in 81 seconds) say she felt like a pawn used to get a non-guilty verdict. That the juror later got a letter from the KKK - thrilled at the verdict and inviting her to join - drove the point home most unpleasantly.

In a sign of the times, more than one character made disparaging comments about Jesse Jackson. Oh, Jesse.

Lewis' convincing Cornel West character explained the difference between "optimism" and "hope," the former being secular, and the latter based on nothing, and also predicted that if whites could experience black sadness, it would be overwhelming for them.

No doubt. As it was, the incredibly well-acted play was overwhelming for its unfortunate reminder that there can be no progress until, as Rodney King pleaded, we can all get along.

Props to TheatreLAB for the win, both in thoughtfully choosing a piece of theater that's as relevant today with #blacklivesmatter as when it was written and for the assured execution by Lewis.

Sadly, we still need all the optimism and hope we can get.

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