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The University of La Verne theater department staged a virtual play Sunday called “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” telling the story and aftermath of the Rodney King trial and the civil unrest that ensued.
Alma Martinez, associate professor of theater, directed the show and was produced by Alix Yumi Cho, senior theater major and Campus Accelerated Program for Adults student.
The performance was live-streamed on ShowTix.
The play started with background information on who Rodney King was and what happened to him.
On March 3, 1991, King and two passengers were stopped by California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles Police Department officers in Lake View Terrace after a pursuit. King was pulled from his car and four officers beat him 56 times with their batons and shot him with tasers. The incident was captured on video by nearby resident George Holliday.
LAPD Sgt. Stacey Koon and Officers Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell and Timothy Wind were charged with felony assault, unreasonable use of force and failure to take action to stop an unlawful assault, but were ultimately acquitted.
The first act of “Twilight” also tells the story of Latasha Harlins, a Black teenager who was shot and killed by Korean-American store owner Soon Ja Du in South Los Angeles just two weeks after the assault on King. Du was found guilty but served no jail time. Instead, she was sentenced to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service and a $500 fine.
Public anger over Du’s light sentence and the acquittal of the four officers in the King case sparked the L.A. Riots on April 29, 1992.
After exploring the background of what happened, the play transitioned to a series of monologues by people directly and indirectly involved in the riots. These monologues were words actually spoken by these people in a series of interviews conducted by the original playwright, Anna Deveare Smith.
The play immediately throws the audience into the realities of racial injustice and shines a light on the racial divide still ongoing today.
Rudy Salas, played by freshman theater arts major Jacob Quiroz, recounts the story of his own beating during the riots, mentioning the rage he felt toward white people and police officers for the injustices he reads in newspapers. Salas said that he knew from an early age that white people were his enemy, and that white people feared him for being Mexican. Racism was shown to be generational as Salas’s grandfather fought against “gringos” in Chihuahua.
The value of Black women is called into question by Gina Rey, played by senior psychology major Breanna Moir, who talks about Latasha Harlins, whose case was not as widely publicized as King’s. Rae said there was no justice served for Latasha’s murder. She said that Du’s $500 fine was not justice because Harlins’s funeral service cost $7,000. Rae said there was a parallel in the injustice in Harlins’s and King’s cases, and goes on to say that justice denied to Harlins is justice denied to every American citizen. Rae said she viewed Koreans who participated in the racism against Black people as the enemy.
The play also tells the story of Korean store owners who boarded up their shops and armed themselves to defend their stores. Jay Woong Yahng, played by sophomore musical theater major Mitchell Calderilla, the owner of a liquor store, said that people do not understand the situation other Korean store owners share. Yahng tells the story of a time when three Black people stole from his store, which made him look at Black people, and America, differently. He goes on to repeat “I really hate this country” after what happened and that Black people view him and see each other as the enemy.
The play shows that different racial groups view each other as the enemy because of their own experiences. The actors who played the various roles delivered each monologue with such emotion that it was impossible not to pay attention and tackle your own thoughts on the events and why they happened.
The second and final act shared themes of hope and loss, coupled with the overall themes of injustice.
Cornel West, played by Assistant Professor of Legal Studies Thomas Allison, talked about hope in the Black community, which is haunted by the ghosts of white supremacy. West made a clear distinction between hope and optimism, saying that optimism is based on the notion that there is evidence of things getting better and is more rational than hope. Hope is looking at the lack of evidence and taking a leap of faith against the odds in hope of creating a brighter future. He talked about the loss of humanization and joy of the Black community by society.
Reginald Denny, played by theater arts major Aiden Olivares, was a white man who was beaten on live television during the riots. He told the story of his recovery and the love that he received from famous people. Denny is shown to have a positive outlook on the riots, saying that one day he wants to have a room in his house filled with mementos and happy memories from the riots. He said that he wants the room to be filled with the love and compassion that he received, and for it to be a place people can walk in and have a good time. Denny said that this room would not show that there is a race problem.
Denny’s story was juxtaposed with the story of Rodney King’s aunt Angela King, played by Moir. Whereas Denny was happy to tell the story, King said that she is never in the mood to retell the story. She remembered the first time she saw the video of Rodney’s beating. She said at that moment she recognized that Rodney looked just like his father, and that when you lose something, it has a way of coming back.
Paul Parker, the chairperson of the Free the L.A. Four Plus Committee, played by senior psychology major Jai Deguerio, said that people have no problem seeing Black-on-Black crime, but once a white person is the victim, a Black person would be convicted. Parker said that Denny was only paraded around the news because he was white. He said that his motto is “no justice, no peace,” and that one day he would have a “no justice, no peace” room filled with clippings and articles so his children can see what it takes to be a strong Black man. He said that this is what he had to do.
As the play came to a close, a final monologue from Gang Truce organizer Twilight Bey, played by Moir, was shown. Bey talked about being stuck in twilight, between night and day, light and darkness. She called this twilight limbo. She said that darkness isn’t something negative and equated it to the color of her skin.
The play ended with one simple message – Black Lives Matter.
David Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.