Review: ‘Twilight’ & ‘The Trip’
Opposites attract: ART stages comedy and drama at new home in downtown Detroit
“There is a tremendous healing and educational power in theater,” Oliver Pookrum states in the program for the latest production staged by his African Renaissance Theater. That’s certainly true with “Twilight,” the first of two one-act plays the energetic producer/director chose for his troupe’s inaugural project at 1515 Broadway in Detroit.
Written by award-winning playwright/performer Anna Deavere Smith, “Twilight” examines in stunning detail the Rodney King beating that occurred March 3, 1991 and the riot that followed April 29, 1992 when four Los Angeles police officers involved in the incident were acquitted of all charges. Wisely, Smith doesn’t endeavor to simply restage the events from any one particular point of view; instead, she unfolds her story through a series of monologues based on 300 interviews she conducted with people who were part of the experience and continue to live with its consequences.
The result is a thought-provoking tale that provides fascinating insight into a terrible tragedy that claimed 54 lives and over a billion dollars in property damage, as told through the words of those who actually spoke them.
Smith focuses much of her play on the stories the world never heard. From King’s aunt we learn of three plastic surgeries that were required in order to “get Rodney to look like him again.” An anonymous juror reveals – with a mixture of shock, disgust and shame – a letter he received from the KKK thanking him and the other jurors for acquitting the officers, and offering him membership in their organization. Mrs. June Park expresses anger over the shooting of her husband, a highly educated Korean immigrant. And former liquor store owner Soon Young Han – reflecting on the heavy damage inflicted upon Korean merchants – asks where THEIR justice is.
A number of familiar faces also make appearances, including Police Chief Daryl Gates, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Reginald Denny, the white man pulled from his truck and savagely beaten until rescued by several black onlookers.
It doesn’t take long to discover that it’s a story with no simple answers, yet many complex questions.
Director Pookrum sets the play’s tone through the excellent use of video from “Twilight: Los Angeles,” a movie adaptation of Smith’s play. It’s not for the faint of heart, however; amidst scenes of lootings and burning buildings are the King beating and the graphic murder of Latisha Harlins, a teenager accused of shoplifting by a Korean store owner.
It’s Pookrum’s four talented actresses, however, who give the show its power. The rage, fear, hope and humanity of its many and varied characters are given life by Sandra D. Hines, Yvonne Mangrum, Karen Minard and Madelyn Porter, each of whom has her own moment to shine. Minard is especially moving as the various Korean women.
There are a few disconcerting performances, however. Especially problematic is the portrayal of an unnamed white male police officer who claims the King beating had nothing to do about race -and then laments, “You can break their bones, you just can’t choke ’em.” Watching a black actress play this role doesn’t feel right; the message and the messenger are in conflict.
Pookrum lightens up the evening with a revival of last season’s comedy, “The Trip” by Crystal Rhodes.
Featuring the same four actresses, “The Trip” is a laugh-out-loud look at four middle-aged friends who finally decide to follow a dream they’ve shared for nearly 20 years: a car trip from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Sometimes, they discover, it’s better to leave certain desires left unattained; dreams often turn into nightmares!
Although funny throughout, an otherwise entertaining production is somewhat marred by a lack of attention to the details. When cars stop, start or turn, for example, the laws of motion dictate specific responses from the passengers, something that didn’t always happen this past Friday night. A car’s engine can’t start itself, either; someone has to turn the key. And hand props shouldn’t go gliding halfway across the stage.
“Twilight” & “The Trip” Staged Friday through Sunday by the African Renaissance Theater at 1515 Broadway, Detroit, through April 17. Tickets: $17.50 – $20. 313-965-1515.
The Bottom Line: There’s much to think about – and laugh at – in ART’s first production at its new home, the venerable 1515 Broadway in Detroit’s downtown theater district.
Tidbits II: More News from Around Town
Matrix Theatre extends run of ‘Boomtown 1925’
First it was “Menopause the Musical,” then it was Mitch Albom’s “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel.” Now add “Boomtown 1925” to the list of recent shows that have been granted extended runs.
An original play about Detroit’s Jazz Age, “Boomtown 1925” was written by Matrix Collective Playwrights Workshop under the direction of Matrix Theatre Company’s Executive Director, Shaun S. Nethercott. The play captures the excitement and transformation that marked the 1920s in Detroit.
From 1922 to 1927, the city’s population grew from 250,000 to one million people. The Great War was over, the Jazz Age had begun and Prohibition turned ordinary people into criminals.
From all over the globe, people came together to create a new city and a new way of life. “Boomtown 1925” is the story of five women from five cultures who come together at Gus’ All Night Diner across the street from the Ternstedt plant in Southwest Detroit where they share troubles, laughs and food as they invent the city that created the 20th century.
And it’s a play that obviously struck a chord within the community.
According to Matrix Theatre’s Elaine Smith, Detroit residents love the fact that their neighborhood’s history is showcased in the production. “This is a neighborhood that has never been segregated from day one, and people are proud of it. They are taking to the story quite well.”
Ten of the previous 12 performances sold out, Smith said, and many people have called the theater requesting additional performances. “The cast loves the show so much that they, too, asked us to extend it!”
Performances of “Boomtown 1925” will be staged Friday through Sunday at Matrix Theatre, 2730 Bagley, Detroit, through May 1. Tickets are $15.
For reservations or information, call Matrix at 313-967-0999.