Until the Flood Review – On being Black in a White Society

Dael Orlandersmith in UNTIL THE FLOOD - Photo by Craig Schwartz

Written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, UNTIL THE FLOOD was commissioned by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis to explore a community in turmoil following the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Orlandersmith did extensive interviews with residents across the greater St. Louis area to gain insight into a community torn by trauma and controversy. Drawing from the interviews, she discovered a wide range of perspectives and experiences reflected in attitudes and values surrounding issues of race and policing policies.

Dael Orlandersmith – Photo by Craig Schwartz

From her wide-ranging interaction with residents of the St. Louis area, Orlandersmith created characters reflecting the community’s response to the controversial shooting and to racial unrest more generally – all with the purpose of promoting eventual healing. Orlandersmith has focused on several composite characters to let the audience share in her discoveries. But not only did Orlandersmith interview and author UNTIL THE FLOOD. She has taken on the multiple roles of St. Louis/Ferguson individuals, people who often differ widely in how they perceive the tragic events of 2014 and after.

Dael Orlandersmith – Photo by Craig Schwartz

As she skillfully transforms from person to person in this epic, Orlandersmith becomes each of these very different personalities. Is she the African-American teacher who left Missouri to study in New York – and then returned to fulfill her dream of changing the way things have always been? Is she the black barber who maintains pride in his race and accomplishments? Is she the white retired policeman who may see the shooting in a different light? Is she the jaded teenager whose anger is right there on the surface? Or the thoughtful teen who hopes to achieve his future dreams someday? In reality, Orlandersmith is all those folks – and more – as she breathes life and fire into the lives of so many who have been touched by what happened in Ferguson.

Dael Orlandersmith – Photo by Craig Schwartz

Director Neel Keller does an excellent job of bringing to life each of Orlandersmith’s alter-egos – whether they be black, white, male, female, young, or old. Takeshi Kata’s scenic design is simple but artful as Orlandersmith glides from personality to personality and center stage to corner space. Kaye Voyce’s costumes play an important role in helping Orlandersmith assume each persona with simple changes of shawl, hair, or location. Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting, Justin Ellington’s sound, and Nicholas Hussong’s projections round out a production team which encourages thoughtful introspection as the tale unfolds.

Dael Orlandersmith – Photo by Craig Schwartz

But above all, this is Orlandersmith’s show as she cleverly invites the audience to peek at the inner lives of so many interesting people experiencing the after-effects of trauma and racial bias. With subtle changes of expression, movement, and speech, she projects the dissimilarities – and similarities – of the individuals she spoke to. UNTIL THE FLOOD is a thought-provoking production which turns the philosophic into human form with all the faults, foibles, hopes, and dreams of real people.

UNTIL THE FLOOD runs through February 23, 2020, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tickets range from $30 to $75. For information and reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online.

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