The shooting of Michael Brown, a unarmed black 18-year old, five and a half years ago focused national attention on Ferguson, Mo. A white 28-year-old police officer, Darren Wilson, shot him dead after he allegedly robbed a convenience store. The aftermath piqued the interest of Pulitzer Prize finalist, actress and playwright Dael Orlandersmith. She revisits the reactions and racial divide after Brown was shot with her play, “Until the Flood,”which opened Jan. 29 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and effectively shows the impact on the community.
Orlandersmith conducted extensive interviews throughout the broader St. Louis area, which includes Ferguson, after the August 2014 shooting. In “Until the Flood,” her one-woman tour de force, she portrays a variety of characters – white and black, old and young – discussing the incident and its impact. She conveys that the tragedy impacted everyone. She also notes that the bigotry in the area went beyond color, with several references to anti-Semitism in the area.
Cast of Characters and Conflicting Opinions
Minor wardrobe and setting changes help Orlandersmith, who changes her physical presence and speech patterns for each “Until the Flood” character, transform herself and effectively portray their emotional musings. The composite characters presented include:
- Louisa Hemphill, a black former teacher in her 60s, talks about self-hate caused by racism and the impact on young black men who feel defeated because of their skin color and lack of opportunities.
- Rusty, a retired white cop, admits he is not aware of what really happened during the incident. However, he always supports a cop’s decision to use a gun based on their training.
- Hassan, a black 17-year-old student who requires Orlandersmith to adopt an “urban” walk and speaking style, is angry and he feels harassed by the police.
- Connie Han, a white 35-year-old college teacher who tranquilize herself after work in a wine bar, cannot understand why her feelings that it was a tragedy for both Brown and Wilson alienated a black friend. She also talks about how no one believed her ex-husband and father were abusive since they were white men.
- Black barber Reuben Little relates that people reveal truths to him that they would not say elsewhere. He talks about two Northwestern students, one black and one white, who wanted to interview him, and have a lot of learn about life. “But, everyone needs to be treated fairly. My life is all about fairness.”
- Dougray Smith, a white 35-40-year-old, talks about the poor white trash alcoholics who raised him to show he did not have a privileged upbringing. He sympathetically talks about his hard life before exposing his extreme racism.
- Paul, a black 17-year-old high school student, plans to study art history at Berkeley. He lives in the apartment complex where Brown lived. Paul is terrified that he will not escape the area before he is gunned down like Brown.
- A black minister in her late 50s, Edna, fell in love with a woman when she was young and was rejected for 5 years by her religious Mom. Now, she is married to a white man, which also upset her mother. Edna talks about changing neighborhoods fueling the racism, “but my church welcomes all and I pray for everyone on all sides.”
Finally, at the conclusion of the 70-minute “Until the Flood,” Orlandersmith portrays herself and comments on the ongoing racial strife. “Has the ‘we shall overcome’ — come and gone?” she asks.
Orlandersmith’s moving look at the racial divide in Ferguson after Michael Brown was shot, “Until the Flood,” will be at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City, CA, through Feb. 23. Later this year, Orlandersmith will take the production to the Denver Arts Festival and the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina.
By Dyanne Weiss
“Until the Flood” Performance Jan. 29, 2020
Centre Theatre Group
Photo by Craig Schwartz of Dael Orlandersmith in “Until the Flood,” written by Orlandersmith and directed by Neel Keller,“ which runs through February 23 at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre.