It isn’t just our area that needs to have a dialogue about race. I suspect most of the world does, but we have to start where we are, particularly in America. The Repertory Theatre St. Louis, after the events in Ferguson in 2014, decided to commission a piece on what artistic director Steven Woolf terms not the confusion about or heat from what happened but “the rich story to be discovered”. They approached playwright Dael Orlandersmith to see if she would find something in St. Louis that could be brought to live onstage.
Orlandersmith did indeed come to town and began talking to people. Until the Flood had its premiere at the Rep October 14, although some patrons (and a few critics) saw a reading of it as a work in progress, as part of the Ignite! Series earlier this year.
It’s a series of monologues by a single performer, here the playwright herself, about eight characters, black and white, male and female, young and old. They’re composites of people whose stories and opinions she heard on her visits to St. Louis. Many of the characters, like the retired teacher whose story begins the play, I would like to have heard more from. A couple of them are apt to make some of us very uncomfortable. That’s rather the point of things like this: We need to hear things that aren’t in line with our way of thinking. That’s one of the things art is for. Until The Flood is far more about the experience of race and interaction than it is about the Michael Brown death. That’s obviously a deliberate focus. It’s exposition, exploration, rather than preaching.
Orlandersmith’s characters, even without the slight changes in wardrobe, are clearly delineated, and she changes accents and body habitus so well those changes are superfluous. Not that costume designer Kaye Voyce’s contributions are insignificant, certainly, they delineate characters well. Takeshi Kata’s scenic design and Nicholas Hussig’s projection work create a space that shows how we all operate in a same-but-different environment, ably aided by Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting. Director Neel Keller’s challenge is working with someone who’s performing their own material; he’s up for the job, and he does it very well indeed.
This is a play that is going to be performed in a lot more places than St. Louis. There may come a time when we don’t need experiences like this to open us up to the people around us, but that’s not going to be, at the current rate, for a long time. I hope. our grandchildren don’t see this play and think, “Wow, that’s what it’s like now. Things haven’t changed much.”
Worthwhile, and more challenging than it appears at first.
No intermission, runs about 75 minutes.
Until The Flood
through November 6, 2016
Repertory Theatre St. Louis