York College tackles the L.A. riots in new theater production

By Graciano Clause

The stage of York College’s theater is about to bring the sights and sounds of a city’s streets in turmoil to life.

“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” a play by Anna Deavere Smith, an Obie Award winner and the recipient of a 1996 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” will be performed at the college later this month.

The play centers around the mayhem that was set off in Los Angeles following the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers in 1992. Smith constructed the play as a one-woman show from the interviews she conducted after the event, exploring its causes and ramifications through the words of people of many ethnicities and ages.

Directed by Theatre Arts Adjunct Assistant Professor Jonathan Horvath, the York College production will take a different approach from Smith’s original staging of the play.

“We have an ensemble of 11 York students,” Horvath said. In many cases, they will be portraying characters that are different from themselves, both in terms of gender and ethnic identity. Those characters range from gang members to a defense attorney to Rodney King’s aunt, along with other witnesses and participants. The words they speak are taken verbatim from interviews conducted in 1993.

One thing Horvath said the audience should expect is to hear a range of different opinions.

“I think in our curated Facebook feed of a world we live in now, we tend to become a bit of an echo chamber,” Horvath said. “We say one thing and listen to the people that agree with us.”

In keeping with the goals of Smith’s original play, Horvath said he wants his production to make the audience more empathetic.

“Hearing the voice of a South Central gang member coming out of an 18-year-old female English major might make you hear their story differently instead of dismissing it,” Horvath said. He added that it’s all about listening to people we would normally think of as “other.”

Horvath, who has been a professional actor for 25 years, is directing his sixth production.

“This is my first time directing this play, and I was exposed to it back in college, but this is an experience for all of us,” he said.

The play’s theme is extremely timely, although it will soon be 25 years since the videotaped police beating of King brought police brutality and racial inequality to the forefront of the public’s attention.

With many of the social issues that reverberate today, Horvath gave his thoughts on the play’s relevance.

“I’m sorry to say I was optimistic enough that the news cycle would’ve shifted by the time the play was actually going to be performed, and that people would be thinking about elections or something else,” Horvath said. “These incidents of police brutality being put on camera specifically because of the Rodney King beating was one of the very first times the media got a glimpse of this kind of beating.”

If you Go

“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992”

When: March 18 -24

Where: Milton G. Bassin Performing Arts Center at York College, 94-45, Guy R. Brewer Blvd., Jamaica

Cost: $10/general, $7/York College students

Contact: (718) 262-2840

Website: www.yctheatre.com

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