Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The Racial Divide: Dael Orlandersmith Powerfully Focuses on Ferguson in 'Until the Flood' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Until the Flood
a new play written & performed by Dael Orlandersmith
directed by Neel Keller
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru May 12

Great theater often empowers us to consider things from a variety of angles and perspectives.

It can do this in a variety of ways, but over the last few months and years, I've seen three one-woman plays in which the author--or, in one case, an actress playing the author--has embodied numerous characters onstage to highlight multiple viewpoints.

Unveiled, by Rohina Malik, keenly explores what being Muslim and wearing a hijab--or choosing not to--means to five women of vastly different backgrounds.

Liberty City, by April Yvette Thompson--with Dionne Addis in her stead in the outstanding production I saw at Evanston's Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre earlier this year; Thompson performed in the original New York production--recounts the author's upbringing, most potently regarding a riot that engulfed the Miami neighborhood in which her family lived.

Dael Orlandersmith's Until the Flood, newly opened in the Owen Theater at Goodman, is another terrific example.

Commissioned by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, where the play debuted, Orlandersmith addresses the killing of African-American teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by Darren Wilson, one of that suburb's almost entirely white police force.

At Goodman, as in St. Louis, Orlandersmith performs Until the Flood entirely by herself, and with her acting as strong as her writing, she works in array of characters that she acts out.

Before she takes the stage, we hear the 9-1-1 call pertaining to the incidents that left Michael Brown dead at 18, shot down on a Ferguson street by Wilson for reasons much debated.

Orlandersmith begins her performance in the guise of a 75-year-old black woman, a former teacher who speaks of African-Americans' "legacy of self-hate," and says that "Michael Brown was made to see himself as a n----r."

The author clearly had many conversations with those in and around Ferguson, but in an interview printed in the program shares that the people she personifies are "composite figures."

Directed by Neel Keller on a poignant set designed by Takeshi Kata, Orlandersmith deftly cycles through insightful personifications of individuals black and white, young and old, representing a variety of perspectives.

All of which I valued.

Though I highly recommend Until the Flood--which you should be able to catch for under $20; discounts can be found on HotTix, Goldstar and TodayTix--some more surprising commentaries from those being characterized might have made it a trifle more compelling.

As one might expect, there was outrage and sorrow expressed for the killing of Brown, and some empathy, compassion, forgiveness and/or blamelessness put forth about the young policeman, Wilson.

But the attitudes Orlandersmith chose to embody in her show are largely divided along racial--and
sometimes age--lines, in fairly predictable ways.

Without wanting to reveal in whose voice the author/actress said what, I might have preferred hearing some insights I didn't see coming.

For while the writer is seemingly reflecting truthful--and often painful and scornful--realities, great theater not only can provide incisive perspectives, but perhaps amplify them with some dramatic misdirection.

But this quibble really only serves to explain why I can't quite give Until the Flood a full @@@@@.

Still, I can forthrightly say that no matter who you are, this powerful one-woman tour de force is well-worth your time and attention.

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