Anna Devere Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles: Similarities And Differences Between Victims, Victimizers, And Viewers
After reading and reflecting on Anna Devere Smith's play Twilight: Los Angeles (1992), I find that I both agree and disagree with the critic Robert Brustein's comment, in The New Republic (Vol. 210, no. 18, May 2,1994, pp 29- 31) that within Twilight: Los Angeles: "Smith's subjects divide essentially into victims, victimizers, and viewers, although it is sometimes difficult to determine which is which." Brustein also suggests, within that review, that Smith might be better thought of "as a sociologist than artist." I disagree with that second comment, since sociology is, after all, an academic study of groups within society, and Twilight: Los Angeles is an artistic rather than an academic text (despite Smith's having used interview research methods similar to those of a sociologist. Instead, I suggest that, as the author of Twilight: Los Angeles, Anna Devere Smith is more of a social observer/artist. Several characters in the play could be considered either victims; victimizers, or viewers, and in some cases, could arguably be considered to be all three. In this essay, I will analyze the inherent overlapping, of these three categories identified by Brustein, in terms of the contents of the monologues of three separate characters in the play. I will also explore the background, and the apparent artistic intentions, of Anna Devere Smith in Twilight: Los Angeles
First, Anna Devere Smith is, apparently, a long-term social observer, not just of the Rodney King trial and its aftermath, but of other national ethnic and cultural conflicts as well. Smith has also written various other plays that similarly explore interrelationships between personal and group identity; race, and culture within the United States. An earlier play of hers, Fires In the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, And Other Identities, for example, focused on the clash that took place in 1991 between the Orthodox Jewish and African-American Brooklyn communities. According to Stage and Screen, moreover:
As playwright and performer, Anna Devere Smith has created a body of theatrical works that she calls "On the Road: A Search for American
Character." Based on actual events in recent American history, and evolving from the many interviews she conducts, each play explores the language of racial and cultural differences. Her verbatim portrayals, interwoven with documentary footage, are performed as one-woman shows in which Smith
gives voice to characters as diverse as the American experience.
Further, as "Twilight Los Angeles, 1992: Introduction" states:
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is the fourteenth part of Anna Devere Smith's work in progress, On the Road: A Search for American Character, begun in
1983. The play's unifying focus is the civil unrest in Los Angeles following the April, 1992, verdict in the first Rodney King trial, presented from the perspective [sic] of the wide range of persons that Smith interviewed.
Several characters within Twilight: Los Angeles, including Josie Morales; Elvira Evers; and the Anonymous Young Woman Student, arguably fit into the category of either victim; victimizer, or viewer, and sometimes in fact, fit into more than one of these categories simultaneously, or even all three.
One character, Josie Morales, who works as a clerk-typist in the city of Los Angeles, is described as an uncalled witness [for reasons the prosecution refuses to make clear to Josie Morales) in the Rodney King case. As she states, in the part of the play called "Indelible Substance," speaking from "a conference room at her workplace, downtown Los Angeles":
We lived in Apartment A6
right next to A8,
which is where George Holliday lived.
And, um the next thing we know is, um ten or twelve officers made a circle around him and they started to hit him.
I remember that they just not only hit him with stick, they also kicked him, and one guy, one police officer, even pummeled his fist into his face, and they were kicking him. (Smith, Twilight: Los Angeles, p. 282)
Here, Josie Morales functions mainly, and obviously, as a viewer who describes what she has seen in her neighborhood, where her very own neighbor (George Holliday) was a victim of police brutality. Josie is arguably herself a victim as well, though, in the sense that she, too, must live in fear within such a neighborhood, not only of being…