During the years he was running the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco, Eustis commissioned and directed "Execution of Justice," about the trial of Dan White, the man who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and city Supervisor Harvey Milk. "Just the act of putting on that play for that community over and over again was an act of reliving these events that we had so far failed to process," he said. "And thus we made in the theater an event take place that could only happen in the theater. You needed to be surrounded by other people from the same community. You couldn't be sitting in front of your television set."
The tradition of taking real-life events and finding a way to put them on the stage that both reflects the immediacy of news reporting and the thematic complexity of a work of art is one of the ways theater has of being different from the museum or the ballet, he pointed out. "It's a grubby, immediate art form, and yet it is an art form."
There remains the question about "Twilight": Will it last? Shouldn't the projected durability of a play or book or movie be a measure of its greatness or lack thereof? Probably, except that this is the most difficult of all standards to apply with any accuracy, given a glance at history. How many "classics" of just the last 25 years in the theater already qualify as answers to trivia questions?
"Twilight" seems a piece very much of the moment, an address to a city by a visitor who spent some time here and summed up her thoughts for the stage. But should this diminish its value? The Pulitzer jury concluded that Smith's work "is not reproducible by other performers because it relies for its authenticity on the performer's having done those interviews."
Smith herself disputes this conclusion and reasoning. But call it truth or call it fiction, it is hard to imagine an Anna Deavere Smith show without Anna Deavere Smith. Trying to read "Twilight" is only a little more fruitful than trying to read "A Chorus Line" or "Phantom of the Opera." And in any case the published version differs significantly both from the staged version seen at the Taper and the one now on Broadway, which was altered again under a new director, George C. Wolfe, adding new characters (including a laughing Keith Watson, co-assailant of Reginald O. Denny).
In a way, this continuous tinkering is just an additional problem for anyone trying to measure Smith for a formal gown of respectability. Because she is up to something else, asking audiences and the authorities to look at theater fundamentally as a work in progress, taking place one night at a time. This is possibly a radical idea.