The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting a commissioned piece on their Mainstage that originated in their Ignite series of new plays. “Until The Flood” was written by and is performed by Dael Orlandersmith and opens up the discussion once again about the events in Ferguson and the national stage where it all played out. Of course, it’s still playing out in cities across the country but her one-woman show focuses on the citizens that were first affected by the tragedy.
Playing eight characters in the span of 70 minutes, Ms. Orlandersmith brings pain, wisdom and enlightenment to the subject through a compilation of people she interviewed that were either in the mix or were affected by the events of the Michael Brown shooting. From teacher Louisa Hemphill to barber Reuben Little to a student who just wants to learn without fear and on to others who speak their minds about how this event changed lives forever. At times gritty, at times hopeful, these are real stories from real people and, no matter what opinions you hear, they are all valid points to consider and ruminate as the problems continue.
Director Neel Keller has brought Orlandersmith’s words and insights to the stage with power and sensitivity. One can’t help but be moved by her words and her performance. As she stoops over a chair playing a male character named Rusty or maybe sips wine as Connie as she opines on the events and their aftermath, she brings an intensity to each individual that you can believe and feel for. Paul, the student, simply sits backwards on a chair and you can feel his hurt and his desire to leave it all in the past and just continue his studies without fear of reproach or confrontation. It’s a dazzling tour de force that will undoubtedly live way beyond the Rep.
The spare but effective set featuring several acting areas for the various character is the creation of Takeshi Kata. Along with lighting designer Mary Louise Geiger, they have built a memorial to, not only Michael Brown, but all the lives that have paid for hatred and bigotry over the years. It’s a chilling moment as the dark candles that are part of that memorial that ring the stage slowly come to life towards play’s end when Orlandersmith utters the provocative final words before black out. It just gives you chills.
Kaye Voyce’s costumes are precise accommodating each of the eight characters and the projection design of Nicholas Hussong becomes part of the story as the large screen at backstage expands and shrinks through each individual tale. This is a complex subject that takes on a real feel as it attempts to break down the events that have shaped our lives locally and on a global scale over the past several years.
“Until The Flood” is a heart breaking but hopeful story that should be seen by just so many people- you should be one of them. I love when readings of the Ignite series and its predecessor make it to the Mainstage or Studio Theatre and this one is a natural. It plays through November 6th at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Contact them at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.