The Dusk of Civilization

Anna Deavere Smith delivers a heart-clutching dialogue about race in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

Still, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is impossible to shake. The account of a juror in the federal trial, when a satisfactory verdict was finally reached, is stunning. This, followed by the anguish of a Korean store owner who must "swallow the bitterness," leaves us with an accurate sense of just how complicated the problems are.

The show also strikes me as surprisingly timely. At four years after the events it treats, and just months after the O.J. Simpson trial, it regards the issues at enough of a distance to create perspective even while the immediacy of those issues is never in doubt. As a citizen, I was involved and stimulated.

As a lover of theater I was transfixed. The effect of filtering so many personalities -- from celebrities to the lowest street-brawlers -- through one person is to create a marvelous democratic vision: Because we are seeing everything via a single brilliant instrument, the people themselves become equal. Smith's illuminating portraits flash before us, one after the other, like fireworks exploding in the night sky; for each miraculous instant, whether feeling compassion or contempt, we are utterly enthralled.

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 runs through March 17 at Marines Memorial Theater in S.F.; call (510) 845-4700.

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