BWW Review: Theatre en Bloc's UNTIL THE FLOOD: A rich and intense 90 minutes of what theatre does best.
I've been struggling all week to give voice to my thoughts on Theatre en Bloc's UNTIL THE FLOOD. At this point I've got to say something so you can arrange to get to the Vortex for this production. It's important and beautiful and simultaneously intimate and big.
Alton Sterling. Philando Castille. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. Michael Brown. Just five in a long list of unarmed black men made tragically famous in death at the hands of police. UNTIL THE FLOOD concerns Michael Brown, the 17-year-old black man shot by a white police officer who was barely an adult himself. Pulitzer prize nominee Dael Orlandersmith's dives into the stories of the people in Ferguson Missouri following the 2014 shooting of Mike-Mike. Florinda Bryant captivates us as the sole actress to play each of the eight roles Orlandersmith creates.
Racism, police shooting unarmed black men, and the divisive rhetoric around both. Yes, the topic itself is confrontational. Strangely enough, the love that infuses this production and the characters in it, convey to us a humanity and complexity we sorely need in regard to it.
Eight characters bring their stories to bear on Michael Brown's death in UNTIL THE FLOOD, each entering the room through a proverbial different door, each character shedding light on the complexities of race, poverty, privilege, bias, love, hope and despair. Orlandersmith shows us that for Ferguson, Michael Brown's death was more complicated than black and white, right or wrong, privileged or impoverished. Orlandersmith has captured the narrative of each individual to sculpt a story that at turns evokes disgust, disdain, helplessness, compassion and love.
On a set reminiscent of a shrine like the one erected on the street where Brown died, Florinda Bryant quietly goes about presenting us with a remarkable and diverse experience of the characters playwright Orlandersmith created from real interviews. With some characters, the racism and ignorance is so downright blatant one hopes Orlandersmith has taken huge liberties to widely fictionalize them, still, we know there's someone out there "like that" anyway. The white nationalist, the liberal Unitarian Minister, the well meaning liberal white woman who can't understand the subtlety of her own micro-aggression, the struggling young black man who "just wants out."
Directed with a light touch by Jenny Lavery, Florinda Bryant practically glows as each of the seven characters. Technically, her dialect and physicality are exceptional. Emotionally, playwright Orlandersmith writes each character with such care, and Bryant performs them with such commitment, there's a feeling of grace that runs through the whole 90 minutes. Bryant plays both women and men, young and old, black and white, each and every one with deliberate loving resolve. It can't be easy to be neutral about some of these characters, but it's what's required in order for us to see where our own biases lie in the interpretation. UNTIL THE FLOOD is an unbiased fair-minded look at the spectrum of voices that compose the art of humanity. It's tragic and mean and loving and generous. It's everything.
In another compartment of my life, I facilitate group conversations on divisive topics, and in UNTIL THE FLOOD, Orlandersmith, Theatre en Bloc, and Bryant, have achieved the goal I wish to attain each time we meet to converse over tough topics. Answers are not simple, people are complex, nuance is ever present. A willingness to appreciate and honor the humanity of the individual in front of us will shift our culture toward understanding. But we must enter into such fray with the willingness to put our own biases aside long enough to hear the stories of others. Every "other" no matter how different from us they may be.
UNTIL THE FLOOD is a rich and intense 90 minutes of what theatre does best. It invites us to stretch and think and commune in the complexity of life's circumstances. Go see it.
UNTIL THE FLOOD
Directed by Jenny Lavery
Theatre en Bloc
At The Vortex
2307 Manor Road
Austin, TX, 78722
Through October 11
Tickets at vortexrep.org