Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood, now an on-demand production from Studio Theatre, brings the viewer into the conversation. You couldn’t be more active as a listener in this simple, seamless filmed performance that has the feel of a “one take,” unedited, linear experience in time. Until the Flood is as close to actually being in a theater as you can get.
The brilliant cast consists of three women, of various generations, who interconnect with composite characters created from responses Orlandersmith collected from some 60 individuals in the spring of 2015 following the shooting of Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The characters represent people with day-to-day lives, and within their few words, you find a familiarity and connection to their experiences of police violence and systemic racism.
The actors effortlessly mold their bodies, gestures, and intonations to represent and to inhabit the mannerisms of individuals of all ages, from youth to experienced, ranging from a barbershop owner to a retired white policeman, a 17-year-old student, a white supremacist. Each story is immediately recognizable, a telling of an experience that is deeply personal yet somehow distinctly familiar. The familiarity generates an internal response, a reaction to the conversation that carries you along, and makes your role as a listener important.
Ora Jones, as an older Black woman from the 1960s, tells about the Sundown Law, a form of racial segregation practiced by all-white neighborhoods using tactics of discriminatory laws or violence to exclude nonwhites from nighttime activities. Jones later portrays a Black barbershop owner who resents misconceptions about career choice and about low-income neighborhoods. The stories move to other places and generations, and dialogues weave effortlessly between the three actors. Billie Krishawn’s characters range from a Black teenager threatened by police to a white supremacist. Felicia Curry plays an older white man, a 17-year-old Black boy. If one actor’s story features a recalled conversation, one of the other two chimes in with the response. It all engages, done so simply and effectively.
Director Reginal L. Douglas has set the scene with a bare stage in an empty theater, the actors in street clothes, with minor modifications or changes in posture as the characters change that make sense and underscore the dialogue. Douglas’s idea of shaping Until the Flood from a one-person show and reimagining it for three female actors of different generations creates a sense of movement and time. Each of the stories resonates as the characters enter and then dissolve, bridging over the differences in a masterful way no matter what has so boldly come before. The camera movement, directed by Wes Culwell, mirrors this esthetic, never busy but rather intimate with close-ups or small changes in camera angle. Wider shots take in the seating of the theater itself, the empty seats waiting to be filled, and the distance between the actors and the characters portrayed.
“You can’t judge people based on their looks,” “Black men are not children,” “Not all Black dudes are into getting high,” “Forget where you come from?” and “Race affects everyone” are single lines from the monologues. Perhaps you have heard them before but it’s time to listen again. There is much to talk about, and more to do, and if you don’t know where to start, Until the Flood will begin the conversation.
Running Time: 120 minutes, with no intermission.