DAVID KWIATKOWSKI – STAFF WRITER
Thirty years ago, Rodney King was beaten by the Los Angeles Police Department while under arrest. After an uprising in the form of protests, the circulated footage of the beating sparked a national conversation about police brutality in America.
However, 29 years later, the entire world watched the murder of George Floyd play out in real time on social media as officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
Though the issues remain, the conversation has developed, and is continuing through the work of two Chautauqua groups.
The African American Heritage House and Friends of Chautauqua Theater are hosting a production of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 at 3 p.m. Friday, July 16 at Smith Wilkes Hall. It’s a one-woman show written and performed originally by Anna Deavere Smith after the 1992 events. She interviewed hundreds of people, transcribed the words and performed it as a form of verbatim theater.
Regan Sims, a 25-year-old actor from New York City, will headline the show, playing characters ranging from Rep. Maxine Waters to the then-Los Angeles Police Department Chief Daryl Gates.
Sims performed the show last year on Zoom for the Newton Theatre Company in Massachusetts. The opportunity arose after Sims and her sister led a Black Lives Matter protest where she met Melissa Bernstein, a member of FCT and founder and artistic director of the Newton Theater Company. Bernstein had done her dissertation on Smith’s work and asked Sims to work together.
Having just finished a run of a one-woman show based on the Little Rock Nine before the pandemic, Sims was eager to perform a one-woman show again.
“I hadn’t read much of Anna Deavere Smith,” Sims said. “But I knew of her and how great her work is, and how it resonates throughout time. It was just the perfect response to what was happening last summer.”
Both Bernstein and Sims are lifelong Chautauquans, and after spending the entirety of last year in Chautauqua, Sims fell in love with the space and wanted to do theater here.
Sims wants the audience to leave realizing that the feelings and words on stage were real. These were human beings whose opinions reflect not only the 1992 events, but the present day.
“The uprising was because people were angry,” Sims said. “Enough was enough — especially after the murder of George Floyd. What else can we do but show up, but express how we feel, but say, unfiltered, how we feel about something? It is so atrocious. We’ve been peaceful. We’ve gone to the Supreme Court. We’ve gone to trials. We’ve done everything, but yet there was still no justice.”
She wants the audience to be open to understanding how the thoughts and opinions of the characters also pattern the same thoughts and feelings of people now.
“I want people to know that we can see the history repeating. That shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t be doing this play. It shouldn’t be happening anymore, but it is,” Sims said. “ … I love theater, and I love to bring people together. I love how things can be transcendent and reverberate through time. I just want people to walk away closer, because these people are connected in the show whether they want to be or not.”