Monday, September 21, 2009

Review of TWILIGHT: Voices of the 1992 LA Riots

At the outset, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you the truth: I like to trumpet the accomplishments of my former students. It makes me feel successful, and well, all legitimate writers seem to have conflicts of interest these days. I want in to the insiders club too!

I dragged my good friend Bruce with me the other day to see Subversive Theatre's production of Twilight, a timely play exploring racism in America.

I get to Subversive Theatre as often as I can, although being unemployed it's a little difficult to cough up the price of admission. Well, sure it's free, but my minimum guilt coefficient demands that I donate at least double the cost of a movie ticket, and you should too.

The shows are almost always spooky timely, like Waterboarding Blues just when some truth came out about the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Bush triumvirate. How we can deceive ourselves into thinking that the man's bidding is our own! Well, if you're a legacy child of the man, then I guess it is, and most of the people who get to be heard are legacy somethingorothers. I'm just a plain old bastard, so you don't have to listen to me, but I'm just saying.

Now we've got senators acting uncivil to a president who is quite civilized for a refreshing change. It's almost like they're offended by such an uppity holder to such an exalted office. I mean, considering the way the office has been so recently desecrated, what's up with that?? This man's an actual statesman, and he makes me proud.

I'm sure you've all heard about how Rodney King has now rehabilitated himself from a long bout with alcoholism. He won some celebrity boxing match against a cop! Irony acted out in real life is the very best kind.

This one-actor play over at the old Pierce-Arrow factory explores a set of interviews surrounding the scene way back in 1992 when South Los Angeles erupted in riots. It's not exactly comfortable material, although this scrappy theater is actually getting more and more comfortable, oddly enough, with better seats than the old church pews most protest theaters tend to use. They aren't quite as good as at the cinema or those new big box churches everyone goes to cry at now though.

Bruce taught Russian at the school where I taught Chinese, so we were pretty well prepared for some lefty theater, put on by our former student. (More disclaimers: No, I am not nor have I ever been a member of the Communist Party but I'd like to think I'd say so if I were!)

Well, I actually had to kick Kurt Schneiderman - the Theatre's founder and Artistic Director - out of school for non-attendance after I became its headmaster. There's some more real life irony when you think about it.

What we witnessed was a virtuoso performance by Victoria Pérez who was able to channel players in the real Rodney King drama and its lead-up to the riots in L.A.

It is my claim that Ms. Pérez can fill us all with hope by her enactments of this dangerously diverse range of people from that time; a Korean business man, the mayor, an angry radical young black man, the white pickup driver who was beaten on national TV by an angry mob and way more, though not the full set of interviewees from the original production.

None of these people were even close to Ms. Pérez' evident background; none of them was a Hispanic woman. None of them originally had the courage to get up on stage and explore a range of accents and emotions and positions not her own. None of them was flawless in his performances either, but considering her range, I'd say the performance I witnessed deserved at least an Oscar.

Portrayed on stage, and sometimes in video, were players in a real life drama who had been murderously opposed to one another in real life. They came together for me too, in my own person as an audience member, in a realization that we really aren't all that far apart in what motivates us or makes us angry or forces us to take any opposition to our personal point of view out of its context.

And then the next night I paid passing attention to our Buffalo Bills, who actually won a game! We have this terrible conviction that as a city we can manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and just miss our goal "wide right". I heard a few choice curses along the way yesterday, implying somehow that it's our team which lets us down.

Could it be that we too, this most Catholic city in the land, are working through a guilt abusively foisted upon us? Are we that afraid to say things out loud which are written in our souls? Will we wait until they erupt into more violence, or on the other hand must we really suffer inept black men at our city and state helms?

The discourse in this country has gone uncivil again. There is displaced anger on display, and more than hints of racism. Here in Buffalo, there were no videos of that recent unimaginable street beating, but we're happy about a helicopter now to intercept our secret lives at some magnificent magnification which can read a license plate from a thousand feet. Thank goodness we don't have to rub up against one another.

I think I'll take my theater real and work to get the irony out of real life. Subversive Theatre makes my day!

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