Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Until the Flood
Those riots, and marches, and prayer vigils, and arrests and scandals and investigations and lawsuits and a St. Louis County grand jury and a citizens' committee recommendations (which died before the state legislature) all helped lead to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. And, not coincidentally, to the creation of this one-woman show.
So, in some cases, artists can step in where politicians fear to tread.
Dael Orlandersmith has workshopped her impressive performance piece with the Rep for over a year: on stage she embodies a series of very different real-life people who were all touched by the events that drew a world-wide attention. Each profile in the hour-long show has a specific atmosphere and impact, under the direction of Neel Keller.
The results are moving in unexpected ways: friendships are broken by the aftermath of the shooting; some of Ms. Orlandersmith's characters manage to find their courage as a result; and stereotypes are smashed left and right, and hope for unity springs up on the other side of the metro area. If all you remember from the news coverage is the riots, Until the Flood is everything else, beneath the tip of a brutally telegenic iceberg.
There are grown-ups and teenagers represented in Ms. Orlandersmith's theatrical profiles and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the young people who are most deeply changed by it all, based on interviews collected after the riots. "Would I be afraid of Michael?" one young man wonders, imagining a meeting with the teen shot by white police officer Darren Wilson (who, himself, is also described as a young man changed by events).
One of the greatest things about this show is getting inside the minds of its two black teenagers, through Ms. Orlandersmith's performanceyoung minds still being shaped by events. Hassan, an 18 year old, tells the story of a contemptuous white policeman during a traffic stop; and later expresses frustration over a teacher's compliment: since being "smart and good" isn't enough when you're trapped in Ferguson. These are the moments to be most grateful for, that seem to unlock the mystery of Michael Brown, who was enrolled to study HVAC work at a vocational school beginning the day after he was fatally shot.
Elsewhere in the show, a retired (white) policeman seems to get lost in the imponderables, talking about his life's work, saying "I search my soul all the time," perhaps echoing Officer Wilson's own state of mind. (Mr. Wilson, a former resident of South St. Louis County, has disappeared to parts unknown after a county prosecutor failed to get him indicted by a grand jury.)
But then there are the plain-spoken black seniors: one who sets straight a couple of young writers visiting his barber shop, making it clear that not every black St. Louisan is "trapped"; and a retired teacher, a commanding presence, who explains why the whole crisis was "a long time coming."
Through November 6, 2016, on the Mainstage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, on the campus of Webster University. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
Written and Performed by Dael Orlandersmith