By Alec Clayton
Content warning: This article includes language directly quoted from the performance that some readers may find disturbing.
Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood — now playing at Harlequin Productions, in repertory with Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill — is brutal, angry, heartbreaking and astonishing.
Following the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Orlandersmith explored the social uprising that followed through extensive interviews with Missouri residents. This performance is wholly made of dramatizations of many of those interviews.
The performance opens with photographic projections, by John Serembe, on twin panels in the wings throughout the play. A camera and two chairs are set on stage. Kristen Natalia, in the role of the playwright, enters with notepad in hand and takes a seat. Michelle Blackmon, as Louisa, enters. Louisa is Black and identified as a schoolteacher. She sits, then rises and paces the stage to talk about her life experiences and her thoughts about the killing of Michael Brown. Her anger and grief are electrifying.
Strikingly intimidating is Gerald B. Browning as a white, retired cop who talks about cops sometimes having to use their guns. As he talks, he gradually reveals his virulent racism. Later, Browning reappears in the role of a vicious, racist, white man. At one point, Browning delivers a frightening monologue about a fight involving his character’s five-year-old son Jesse, saying, “You will not let anyone hit you. You will not act like some queer. You go and you hit that nigger back right now! If you don’t, I’ll whip you in front of all these people!”
Each member of the six-person cast takes his or her turn on stage, opening their hearts to the playwright. Brandon Jones Mooney plays both Hassan, an angry, Black, street youth, and Paul, a high school art student. Nikki Visel plays Connie, a well-meaning white teacher who can’t understand why a Black friend was alienated when she described the shooting as a tragedy for both the victim and the shooter. Vincent Orduña plays an outraged, Black barber.
Finally, stepping out of her role as the playwright, Natalia gives a stunning monologue linking the killing of Michael Brown with so many other racial killings from Emmett Till to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as their photos appear on the two side panels.
“Dael Olandersmith’s brilliant play beautifully reaches across cultural boundaries and provides a helpful emotional roadmap for our collective journey,” said director Faith Bennett Russell. “Each character and their powerful stories creates a very necessary opportunity to invoke conversation [and] reveal personal intimate truths, and also unveils the very fragile humanness often found in all of us, especially those involved and affected by the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson.”
The sparse set, the lighting, the photo projections and the work of the outstanding cast coalesce into an experience that should not be missed. Until the Flood runs one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
Photos courtesy Harlequin Productions and Shanna Paxton Photography.
Until the Flood
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17; Sunday, Nov. 28; Tuesday, Nov. 30, Thursday, Dec. 2 and Saturday, Dec. 4;
2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20 and Wednesdays, Nov. 24 and Dec. 1
Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
$25 – $42