On 30th anniversary of LA riots, Ventura County theater stages play looking at issues behind crisis
Riots had Ventura County link. Verdicts by a jury in Simi Valley in the Rodney King beating case sparked 1992 uprising which left more than 60 people dead.
It was a week which shook Southern California, with aftereffects which continued for years.
After a Simi Valley jury acquitted four Los Angeles Police Department officers of virtually all of the charges they faced in the videotaped beating of an African-American man, LA was hit by rioting which left more than 60 people dead. It sounds like something which might have happened in 2020.
But, this week marks the 30th anniversary of the verdicts in the Rodney King beating trial which triggered the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
The riots led to an examination of issues like race, and class. It prompted a project by a playwright to use the stage as a platform for examining social justice issues.
Anna Deveare Smith interviewed hundreds of people in the wake of the riots to try to provide some perspective on the issues which fueled the uprising
The result of that research was a play called Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.
The award-winning play was a Broadway hit, receiving two Tony nominations. HBO did a film version of the story. Now, Ventura’s Rubicon Theater Company is presenting the play to commemorate the anniversary.
Actor Chris Butler, who stars in the production, says it features the voices of 40 different people who talked about the issues surrounding what occurred. What makes it especially challenging for the actor is he plays all 40 people.
"Now that we're on the 30th anniversary, we felt like we needed to tell that story again," said Butler.
"She interviewed them and verbatim reported those interviews," said Butler. "So, what I am doing is presenting all of those 40 different characters, from all different backgrounds...all different statuses...Korean Americans, African Americans, White Americans."
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 Director Jenny Sullivan said it's a deeply personal story.
"It's not just about there was a riot here...it's about what is the human toll, emotionally and physically," said Sullivan.
Rubicon Theater Company Artistic Director Karyl Lynn Burns says it was important to do the play, especially with its ties to Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.
"We're the only professional theater not only in the nation, but in the world doing it on the anniversary of the riots," said Burns.
Butler says the play deals with many issues which unfortunately are just as relevant now as they were 30 years ago.
"If you take out the name Rodney King... If you take out some of the names, you could be talking about something which happened last year, or a few months ago, or yesterday," said Butler. "All of these are issues we are still dealing with."
The actor says the play doesn't try to provide solutions, but that it presents different perspectives on what occurred so audiences will leave seeing the events of 1992 from many different angles.
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 opens Friday night, and runs through May 15 at Ventura’s Rubicon Theater. The exclusive production is the opening show for the Rubicon’s first full season since the pandemic.