Anna Deavere Smith
Smith was a journeyman actor and teacher before striking success with her one-woman production "Fires in the Mirror" in 1992, part of a series overall titled "On the Road: The Search for American Character". Drawn from personal interviews, the play explored the racial tensions that resulted from two events in a small Brooklyn community: a Black child was killed by a car driven by a Hassid; a Jewish scholar was stabbed to death reportedly in retaliation. Smith delineated portrayals of 19 individuals whose lives were touched in some way by the events. What emerged was a powerful meditation that posed questions about how people (and by extension the audience) integrate perceptions of specific events into the general context of their own lives. Smith was commissioned to create a similar piece on the Los Angeles following the 1992 riots that stemmed from the jury decision to acquit the police accused of beating Rodney King. Using the same techniques, she sketched a larger canvas in "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992", portraying over 40 characters. The play won acclaim and earned Smith two Tony nominations for Best Play and Best Actress.