The StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance of Chapel Hill, NC will premiere its new 15-member ensemble production of actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith’s critically acclaimed one-woman show, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, from Feb. 17 to March 2 in the Studio 6 Theater in Swain Hall on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. Smith extracted her widely acknowledged masterpiece of documentary theater from the transcripts of hundreds of interviews conducted after riots erupted in Los Angeles following the initial acquittal of four white police officers charged with stopping and beating African-American motorist Rodney King.

StreetSigns artistic director Derek Goldman says, “I have been familiar with Anna’s work since the early 1990s when she did Fires in the Mirror [about race riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn after a Jewish motorist accidentally hit and killed a black child], and I was around during some early workshops in Chicago for her solo performance of Twilight.”

Goldman says, “There is a remarkable body of material [in Twilight] from the approximately 300 interviews she did in connection to the events surrounding the Rodney King beating and verdict. I have admired Anna’s virtuosity as a solo performer in taking on all these roles, but have long been intrigued by the possibilities for this material as performed by a larger, diverse ensemble.

“By having this wide range of performers, each of whom plays multiple roles, engage with the relationship between language and identity and the process of becoming another real person,” Goldman explains, “we are exploring what Smith calls ‘the search for American character’ in a very distinct way than she was as a solo performer. The large, diverse ensemble, though by no means completely representative of the full range of identities, nationalities, etc., of the interview subjects, still forms a dynamic community, and the production seeks to explore not only the extraordinary array of individual perspectives on race, class, justice, politics, violence, and so forth that these events engendered, but also their impact on the collective identity of communities as well as of Los Angeles and America as a whole.”

Goldman adds, “The performance uses the personal testimonies of a wide range of citizens, politicians, thinkers, public servants, artists, and family members who experienced the Los Angeles riots to expose and explore the devastating human impact of that tragic event. Originally presented by Anna Deavere Smith in 1992 as a one-woman performance piece at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and at the New York Shakespeare Festival, the script was developed entirely from verbatim transcripts of interviews she conducted following the Rodney King verdict.

“During that time,” says Goldman, “she conducted around 300 interviews, ultimately selecting a fraction of these to be in the script. The StreetSigns production features 15 performers in 36 roles. While the ensemble is diverse, it can in no way be said to be ‘representative’ of the full expanse of characters portrayed (including African-Americans, Caucasians, Panamanians, Nicaraguans, Mexicans, Koreans, and so forth).

“With each ensemble member asked to play multiple and divergent roles,” Goldman says, “the production emphasizes the ‘search for character’ and the nature of acting as what Smith herself calls ‘a constant process of becoming something.’ The script and staging also underscore the fluid, unfixed nature of identity itself, exploring how we might reach across ethnic boundaries to achieve greater understanding.”

Goldman says, “Among the dozens of characters portrayed are Reginald Denny, Mayor Tom Bradley, Charlton Heston, Cornel West, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Angela King, Homi Bhabha, Police Commissioner Daryl Gates, and Elaine Brown, as well as a wide assortment of other witnesses, victims, gang members, jurors, activists, intellectuals and political leaders.

Derek Goldman says, “The StreetSigns ensemble includes Rivka Eisner (as Judith Tur and Mrs. Young-Soon Han), Etheldreda Guion (as Angela King and Queen Malkah), Katrina Harper (as Theresa Allison and Maxine Waters), Tessa Joseph (as Josie Morales and Anonymous Young Woman), SaRAH! Kocz (as Stanley Sheinbaum, Elvira Evers, and Gladis Sibrian), Torrey Lawrence (as Keith Watson, Paul Parker, and Walter Park), Rick Lonon (as Charles Duke, Daryl Gates, and Reginald Denny), Carl Martin (as Rudy Salas and Dean Gilmour), Sherida McMullan (as Katie Miller and Elaine Brown), John Murphy (as Tom Bradley, Charlton Heston, and Harland W. Braun), Kevin Poole (as Joe Viola, Timothy Wind, and Owen Smet), Courtney Rollins (as Anonymous Gang Member and Cornel West), Aaron Scott (as Charles Lloyd and Julio Menjivar), Jordan Smith (as Lane Haywood and Anonymous Juror), and Jinda Wedel (as Mrs. June Park and Homi Bhabha).”

Set designer Rob Hamilton, lighting designer Steve Dubay, costume designer Diana Waldier, and sound designer Emily Hanford will assist director Derek Goldman in recreating the volatile world of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.

Goldman says the show’s set is “a kind of bombed out, water-stained environment, evoking a space of urban neglect and riot without seeming to be a literal location. Also a playground canvas for video and still imagery from the riots and related events.” He adds that the show’s lighting will be “dynamic in its attempt to underscore the kinetic motion of the piece and its interplay between individual stories and collective energy/ensemble motion” and that the cast’s costumes are contemporary.

“The good news,” says Derek Goldman, “was most of the characters dress like everyday contemporary people. The bad news was that there were 36 of them, and we felt it was important to find costume choices for each character that fit their identity (rather than going for a more singular, stylized, ensemble concept that in the end would have made the individuals less distinctive).”

The StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, in partnership with UNC Department of Communication Studies, presents Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 Monday-Saturday, Feb 17-22, at 8 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, Feb. 26-March 1, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 23 and March 2, at 2 p.m. in the Studio 6 Theater in Swain Hall on Cameron Ave. on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. $14 Friday-Saturday, $12 Wednesday-Thursdays/Sundays, with student rush, senior discounts, and group rates available, plus pay-what-you-can previews Feb. 17-18. 919/843-3865.