Until the Flood

Dael Orlandersmith
Arcola Theatre
Traverse Theatre
to

The killing in 2014 of the black teenager Michael Brown by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson generated numerous protests across America.

A poll in August of that year found that some 80% of black people and 37% of white people in the country thought it raised important issues about race.

Dael Orlandersmith has created and performs a series of monologues from interviews with three white and four black people who live in or near Ferguson. Her own reflections on the killing complete the play.

The retired school teacher Louisa (black) recalls the appalling racism of the area where all the police were white and in the past there were “sundown laws” reinforced by signs that read, “don’t let the sun go down on you in this town nigger.”

Some of that racism is evident in the retired white policeman Rusty and there is even worse from white Dougray, who, referring to “niggers”, imagines teaming up with a Nazi killer of Jewish people “and Darren Wilson lining all of them up right on West Florissant Avenue and gunning them down.”

The young white teacher Connie would be appalled at that. She recognises racial unfairness, but her sympathies for Darren Wilson cause her close friend Margaret to walk away from her in disgust.

The weary contempt for liberals is there in the reflections of the barber (black) Reuben who describes two students, young girls, one black, the other white, coming to his shop in search of people to interview. He tells these “two green women... from privilege” who he claims “were looking to SAVE US”, that “both of you know nothing, nothing at all.”

Hassan, listed in the show as a “street kid”, is especially angry and as he speaks at times lyrically he describes the hostility of “Po-lice looking hungry just like a hungry dog mutt” and his occasional feelings of defiance at racists whom he mentally dares to shoot him.

The high school student Paul is certain he is getting out, going to college in California, an escape from his home in the Canfield apartments, "just like Michael Brown did" that “feels just like a prison... defeated.” With sadness, he recalls being stopped on his way home from school by a white policeman convinced the schoolbooks he carried must be stolen, to which he says, “sir... do you really think I would risk my life or jail for a BOOK? A BOOK about Leonardo de Vinci?”

Dael Orlandersmith gives a riveting performance as she switches between characters with slight changes in the rhythm of her voice and a shift in the lighting.

The play gives us a vivid sense of the daily racism at the heart of America and the certainty that there will be more Michael Browns until America really decides that black lives also matter.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna