Review Until The Flood Arcola Theatre

Dael Orlandersmith in Until The Flood at The Arcola Theatre picture by Alex Brenner

Dael Orlandersmith in Until The Flood at The Arcola Theatre picture by Alex Brenner - Credit: Archant

Based on the fatal shooting af a black teen by a white policeman, Dael Orlandersmith performs her own devastating poetic monologues which spotlight the racism that divides and distorts America

Written and performed by American actress, poet and playwright Dael Orlandersmith, Until the Flood explores responses to the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri.

Orlandersmith spoke with or interviewed around 80 people in the community before writing the play.

The result is not a documentary reconstruction of the 2014 shooting or an exercise in verbatim theatre. Instead, we get a sequence of compelling and poetic monologues by eight characters - black, white, young, old, male, female - none directly involved in the incident, but all shaped by the racism that divides and distorts life in the suburb.

One of the glories of the show is the economy and skill with which Orlandersmith captures each of the characters.

Minimal props - an old scarf here, baseball jacket there - is all Orlandersmith needs as she quietly assumes the body language of the characters. A retired black schoolteacher in her 70s, angry at the legacy of self-hate she sees at the heart of racial conflict gives way to a retired white policeman for whom using a gun has a tragic inevitability: 'When somebody has nothing to lose, you gotta use your gun.'

A seventeen-year-old black street kid with no prospects looks set to explode into violence. A white high school teacher speaks of the rupture in her friendship with a fellow black teacher brought about by an argument over the shooting. A black barber refuses to play ball when two 'green' journalism students turn up bursting with righteous empathy.

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At times the characterization could delve deeper. But with the creation of Dougray, Orlandersmith manages a real coup, bringing humanity to a racist white real estate developer who had an abusive childhood, loves Hemmingway and now profits from the gentrification of the projects.

Dougray recounts with venom how he forced his young son to fight some black teenagers after they made fun of him and the murky hinterland of deprivation on both sides is chilling.

Subtle direction from Neel Keller and a shrine-like set work to devastating effect.