Feb. 3, 2020 | By Bruce R. Feldman
“Until The Flood,” Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City, Jan. 24 – Feb. 23, 2020
In Brief: Dael Orlandersmith’s engrossing, thought-provoking, and altogether superb solo show about the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri raises many more questions than it answers. Orlandersmith gives a magnificent performance, playing multiple roles of varying ages and backgrounds. This alone is worth the price of admission, but there’s so much more on offer here.
Where has the remarkable actor and author Dael Orlandersmith been all my life? For the past 20 years, she mostly has performed her own plays in regional theaters across America, with an occasional stop in New York. And while she’s twice before worked in Los Angeles – in 2010’s Bones and 2014’s Forever, both at the Kirk Douglas – I didn’t see either production. My loss, sad to say.
Dael Orlandersmith gives a magnificent performance in her solo show, "Until The Flood" (Photo: Craig Schwartz)
If her latest effort, Until The Flood, is any indication of the depth of her talent, Orlandersmith should be a national treasure.
The fateful killing of a young black man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer, the wave of demonstrations from an angry Mid-West community, and the national outcry that quickly ensued – all of this is the subject of Orlandersmith’s gem of a play.
The 90-minute monologue might have been an angry polemic about these heartbreaking events in particular and racial tensions in general. It’s not. It’s a meditation, a very measured one, that presents the views and feelings of different Ferguson residents – black and white, male and female, young and old.
These range from an elderly retired schoolteacher, to a thirty-something police officer (not the killer), a teenager, an Old School barber, a let’s-all-love-one-another Universalist Church minister, and several others.
Orlandermsith plays each of them brilliantly. It’s a joy – and impressive – to watch her bring them to life on stage, with the aid of nothing more than a shawl or jacket, adopting the distinct voices, mannerisms, and body language of each character. The overall effect is mesmerizing and thrilling.
In this she’s been capably guided by Neel Keller’s sensitive, unfussy direction. Lighting, sets, and costume design are similarly understated, though always first-rate. The production team seems to have understood that the best thing they can do is to get out of the way and let Orlandersmith go to town.
"Until The Flood" is engrossing, thought-provoking, and altogether superb
Orlandersmith passes no judgment on her characters. Her take on the people and happenings of Ferguson is matter-of-fact, yet compassionate. People are flawed. We’re also complex, she seems to be saying. So are the issues we face as a society
Is she hopeful? Perhaps. Or perhaps not, if the play’s title means anything at all.
When God had had enough of humanity’s wickedness, he wiped out nearly everyone on earth in the great flood. He saved Noah and his family to start anew when the waters had subsided.
We know now how that turned out. Until The Flood reminds us that it’s time to fix the world again. But will we find the means within ourselves to do that, or are we just biding time until God decides to intervene one more time?
"Until The Flood," Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd, Culver City, (213) 628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org