×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘Until the Flood,’ a Docu-Drama Set in Ferguson, Mo.

In her quietly moving one-person show, Dael Orlandersmith dramatizes reactions of St. Louis residents to the 2014 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

With:
Dael Orlandersmith.

The Repertory Theater of St. Louis confirmed the political power of theater when it commissioned this one-person show written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith to capture the reactions of Ferguson, Mo., residents to the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in the summer of 2014. The results are both eye-opening and quietly moving.

In this Rattlestick Playwrights Theater presentation, Orlandersmith, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Yellowman,” brings an entire community to life by channeling her interviews with people who were on the scene of this inflammatory racial incident, in which a black teenager was gunned down by a panicky young white cop. Sensitively directed by Neel Keller, “Until the Flood” is a group testimonial composed of a variety of voices, from angry teenagers to reflective elders, all struggling to come to terms with the issue of race on its most personal level — their own.

“That whole race thing was a long time coming,” says Louisa Hemphill, a retired black schoolteacher who seems to think she escaped the worst of it.  But in the course of her monologue, she is pulled back to the past, recalling occasions in her youth when she, too, was injured by racist prejudice. She remembers the so-called “Sundown Laws” that brought everyone to their proper neighborhoods when night fell. Acknowledging these painful memories finally brings her to the realization that she’s angry with Michael Brown for the stupid, thoughtless action that led to his death. “I’m angry at him!” she admits, and then adds, sadly, “I’m just angry in general.”

With a minimum of costume changes — a leather jacket for a shawl, a scarf for a hat — Orlandersmith slips in and out of character.  One minute she’s a white cop stunned at the way black teenagers would call him “honky” while he’s carrying a loaded gun. “It’s like they want to die,” he marvels. The next minute, she’s one of those reckless kids, rapping and raging and finally breaking down and admitting that he didn’t really want to die. What he really wanted was a father.

There’s poetry to some of these testimonials:  “I watched some of the kids I’m in school with paint.  The way they paint, the way their wrists move, it’s like liquid.” There’s also cold, hard wisdom: “I’m seventeen, man,” one kid says. “Sometimes I feel seven. Sometimes I feel seventy.” Mostly, though, it’s sadness that comes through. A white woman misses the black friend who broke off their friendship. “I really wish I could tell her that I’ll miss her. I really wish I could.”

And once in a while there’s good humor. Like the testimony of a black barber who shakes his head in disbelief at the upper-class girls, one white and one black, who want to interview him, as a black man, about being “a victim.”  “Black men are not children,” he says. “I am not a child.”

It’s hard to say exactly what Orlandersmith does that makes all these people come to life. Her costume changes are minimal. She doesn’t modify her voice dramatically. And she certainly doesn’t strike poses. Somehow, though, she gets under these black skins and white skins and finds the common humanity of people who are just … people. Like Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.

Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: 'Until the Flood,' a Docu-Drama Set in Ferguson, Mo.

Rattlestick Theater; 99 seats; $41 top. Opened Jan. 18, 2018. Reviewed Jan. 17. Running time: ONE HOUR, 15 MIN. 

Production: A presentation by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater of a play in one act by Dael Orlandersmith, originally commissioned and produced by the Repertory Theater of St. Louis.

Creative: Directed by Neel Keller.  Set, Takeshi Kata; costumes, Kaye Voyce; lighting, Mary Louise Geiger; sound, Justin Ellington; projections, Nicholas Hussong; production stage manager, Laura Wilson.

Cast: Dael Orlandersmith.

More Legit

  • The Sound Inside review

    Broadway Review: 'The Sound Inside' Starring Mary-Louise Parker

    Mary-Louise Parker will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait of a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature, but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with. The other thesp in this two-hander is Will Hochman, endearing in the supportive role of a [...]

  • Little Shop of Horrors review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors'

    With its strains of kitschy doo-wop and its sci-fi B-movie inspirations, the quaint 1982 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” hardly seems a thing of modern-day revivalism, even despite its touches of S&M. Yet this year alone, not only is there an Off Broadway production of the blackly comic “Little Shop” featuring Jonathan Groff of Netflix’s [...]

  • The Lightning Thief review musical

    Broadway Review: 'The Lightning Thief,' The Musical

    “It’s a lot to take in right now,” says Percy Jackson, the teen hero of “The Lightning Thief,” the kid-centric fantasy musical (based on the popular Y.A. novel) that’s now on Broadway after touring the country and playing an Off Broadway run. You could say that’s a bit of an understatement from contemporary teen Percy [...]

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content