Chicago Theatre Review
Documented History as Theatre
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 – The Other Theatre Company
Following the unthinkably violent incidents that occurred in the aftermath of Rodney King’s sadistic beating in California, stage and television actress, professor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith composed and performed this Tony-nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning show. In her solo performance, the actress portrayed an array of multi-ethnic individuals of both genders, all of whom were tied to this brutal incident ironically in the City of Angels. Using their actual words, Ms. Smith presented “the devastating human impact of that event.”
Prompted by the recent shooting of Michael Brown and the death of Eric Garner, Chicago’s newest Equity theatre company, under the artistic direction of Carin Silkaitis, chose Ms. Smith’s 1994 play for their premiere production. The Other Theatre Company identify themselves as artist activists who champion a belief to fight for equality through drama.
Rather than present this play as a one-woman show, as it was originally performed, Ms. Silkaitis has chosen to cast her production with six talented actresses of various ethnicities. In doing so, director Jason Gerace is able to remove such influential determiners as gender and race from his production, allowing each character’s words to ring louder and truer. The result is a topical, eye-opening reminder that history is constantly repeating itself. Events from the past should never be forgotten or swept under the rug; it’s important that we continually revisit history because it informs and reminds us that we must always strive to improve the quality of life for everyone in our society.
In 1992 four police officers, despite video evidence proving otherwise, were acquitted of sadistically beating African American Rodney King, following a high speed car chase. The effect of this court decision provoked what became known as the LA Riots, in which the public’s anger over continued prejudice and brutality inflicted by law enforcement officials resulted in violence. What’s important to acknowledge today is that the United States seems to have learned nothing; such travesties of justice unfortunately continue today, over twenty years later.
Mr. Gerace has expertly kept his eye on his goal. He presents a beautifully paced, unified production, the whole of which is greater than the sum of its individual vignettes. His production swiftly and seamlessly moves between interviews. Blessed with a phenomenally talented cast helps Mr. Gerace in the execution of his mission. Danielle Pinnock is a standout portraying a variety of characters, among them Jewish police commissioner, Stanley Sheinbaum. As one of the most impressive cast members, Ms. Pinnock is the go-to actress for bringing humor to this production and, in all but one of her fine portrayals, she provides most of the laughs. Tanya Thai McBride, a notable actress at Adventure Stage, creates a number of excellent personages, her Korean character being one of the most memorable. Remembered for her superb portrayal of Miss Haversham and others in Strawdog’s incredible “Great Expectations,” Mary Winn Heider plays each of her varied roles with poise, strength and dignity, always bringing honesty and at least a modicum of humor to most of her portrayals. Lovely, versatile and extremely talented Carolyn Molloy, Toya Turner and Leena Kurishingal complete this extraordinarily talented ensemble.
For many reasons, this unfortunate slice of history still resonates today. We continually hear about examples of prejudice and bigotry, often resulting in understandable outrage and violence. It’s important to never forget such instances of man’s inhumanity toward man, to acknowledge the mistakes made and to learn from them. The Other Theatre Company fills a niche by telling stories of the oppressed, the persecuted, the downtrodden…the “others” in society. They are to be admired, not only for their mission to educate audiences while entertaining them, but for the high quality of their first production. This “American masterpiece,” as Newsweek called Anna Deavere Smith’s play, was created from nine months of real-life interviews taken from hundreds of individuals. However, the power behind Jason Gerace’s stunning production comes across as one undeniable voice, one that needs to be heard by everyone.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 23-February 22 by The Other Theatre Company at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, Chicago.
Tickets are available at www.buzzonstage.com/theatres/other-theatre-company.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.