When he learned that he could get them, "I was shocked," Grossman said. "I think it's taken for granted. It's like, 'We did this subject already. We're into other subjects.'"
For many, "Twilight," which was originally directed by Emily Mann, remains the single most influential art work to emerge from the riot's ashes and surely "the most comprehensive literary response," as Times book critic David Ulin wrote in an essay last week.
"Twilight" followed in the tradition of politically engaged theater of the 1930s and '60s. Depression-era works produced by the Federal Theatre Project and three decades later by activist ensembles such as the San Francisco Mime Troupe and El Teatro Campesino had pioneered the fashioning of verbatim interviews, court transcripts and other documentary materials into the stuff of high drama.
Smith began honing similar methods in the early 1980s with the project she dubbed "On the Road: A Search for American Character." They coalesced in "Fires in the Mirror," her award-winning one-woman show about a violent fallout from rising tensions between Jews and blacks in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in August 1991, and later in "Twilight."
That approach has since been adopted by playwrights such as Moisés Kaufman in "The Laramie Project," about the murder of gay Wyoming university student Matthew Shepard in 1998.
"I hear from people all over the world who are doing this type of work," Smith said, "trying to tell the story of a community by getting the most vocal and the least vocal people to talk to you."
Gordon Davidson, who as founding artistic director of the Taper oversaw the development of "Twilight," said that Smith's talent, empathy and commitment enabled her not only to summon an entire city of characters on-stage but to create a diverse community inside the theater itself.
"What's unusual with Anna's work is that both emotions and the mind were being challenged and the rules of the game were different because you were sitting next to people in the theater you might not necessarily be sitting next to," Davidson said.
Crafting work that engages with the themes Smith raised but moves them forward into a 21st-century context is one challenge facing groups like Katselas and Watts Village. Although he calls "Twilight" "a seminal piece" that "was very influential in our work," Avilés-Rodríguez said, "we can't reinvent that if we wanted to."
Instead, he said, his company is developing "Riot/Rebellion" using ensemble-based material-shaping methods similar to those ofBritain'sJoint Stock Theatre Company, which workshopped Caryl Churchill's "Cloud Nine," a landmark play set in London and British colonial Africa that scrambles time, theatrical genres and gender and ethnic stereotypes.
In the late 1980s and early '90s, a generation of emerging theater artists like Smith, filmmakers such as Spike Lee and John Singleton, and a posse of socially conscious hip-hoppers put ethnic and social conflicts on the front burner of U.S. popular culture. Edward Hong, a Katselas company member, said that today it may be more difficult to produce a work that can galvanize cultural awareness the way that "Twilight" and Lee's "Do the Right Thing" did in their time.
But he believes new tools are at hand for exploring current polarizing events like the February shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.
"What I've come to notice, especially with Trayvon Martin, is that there have been so many PSAs or like shorts dedicated to Trayvon Martin," Hong said.
"And they're not famous filmmakers, they're just everyday people who got really upset by this and they said, 'Hey, I want to create something to tell my world what I feel about this.' This generation, they're making their own 'Do the Right Things' by just putting it on YouTube."