Goodman: “Until The Flood” lays bare the soul of Ferguson and the nation - now

Dale Orlandersmmith's Until The Flood, playing in the intimate Owen Theatre

at Goodman Theatre now though May 12 is exactly what the Greeks had in mind

when they invented theatre. It brings together strong words and nuanced

characterization that are both symbols unto themselves and representative

of a larger truth. The play uses the words of actual Ferguson residents

compiled from months of in-person interviews conducted in and around the now

infamous Missouri city where 18 year old Michael Brown was gunned down by

a young, white police officer, Darren Wilson, on the night of August 9,

  1. The incident became, literally, the racially charged shot that rang

around the world, sparking international protests, and a wave of rising

cynicism and outcry over similar incidents of police over-use of force in

black communities around the country. The most recent manifestation is this

stage production by Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Dael Orlandersmith.

Until The Flood was originally commissioned by the Repertory Theatre of St.

Louis in 2016 and debuted there in a theatre just blocks from the scene of

the tragedy. Since then, the play has played to rave reviews Off-Broadway.

After its limited Goodman engagement, it continues its journey to Seattle's

Contemporary Theatre and Portland Center Stage.

Playing eight composite characters based on her extensive research into the

moods of actual residents in the years following the Ferguson shooting,

Orlandersmith inhabits each of the personages with an uncanny and often

unnerving accuracy. Watch as she dawns a shawl (one of the lone props in

this minimalist production by Set Designer Takeshi Kata) and slumps into an

old wooden chair as the 72 year old retiree Louisa Hemphill, whose

poignant words paint vivid verbal image of what it was like to grow up in

segregationist Ferguson in the 1950s.

We then hear from Rusty, a retired white Ferguson career policeman who

defends the right of police to use force when there's the slightest doubt,

to Hassan, a 17 year old street kid who dares the white establishment to

point a gun at him and fire. Next, there's Connie, a well-intentioned young

white teacher at an all-black school who finds solace in a glass of Chardonnay in the areas wine bar.

Then comes Dougray, a young white self-made man who is perhaps a

symbol of those upwardly mobile young whites who are gentrifying black

neighborhoods around the country.

Orlandersmith uses words like a sculpture etching indelible images into a

piece of stone. She moves seamlessly from character to character, not

giving audience so much as a psychological breath. The cumulative effect is a

psychological tsunami that leaves one emotionally drenched, yet wanting

more. We're drawn to Orlandersmith's characters like moths to a flame, only

the flame is the smoldering embers of a racial Armageddon, both ignited and

sanctified by the blood of Michael Brown. Until The Flood is a haunting

piece of theatre with words that reverberate far beyond the parameters of

the Owen stage. This play is well worth the ticket.