Review: UNTIL THE FLOOD at Stray Cat Theatre

The production runs until March 2, 2024

By: Feb. 28, 2024
Review: UNTIL THE FLOOD at Stray Cat Theatre
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Attending a one-person play presents a unique theatrical experience, offering an intimate and immersive journey into the depths of a single performer's storytelling prowess. Yet, within this singular spotlight lies the allure and hazard of the format. While the audience is drawn into the rich tapestry of characters and narratives woven by the solo actor, there exists the ever-present risk of monotony and fatigue, where the success of the performance hinges precariously on the performer's ability to captivate and sustain engagement throughout the entirety of the production. Having attended both versions of Until the Flood, (Ryan L. Jenkins and Tanner J. Conley as understudy), there is no doubt about its success from a performance and subject matter perspective.

Set in 2014 in the aftermath of the Michael Brown Jr. shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, the play offers a raw and honest portrayal of the complexities of racial tensions and systemic inequalities, using the incident as a catalyst for the conversation. The author, Dael Orlandersmith, interviewed people in the area and created eight characters and their narratives. Through these characters, the play compels viewers to confront their biases and responses, fostering dialogue about pressing issues that extend to the present day.

Review: UNTIL THE FLOOD at Stray Cat Theatre
Photo by John Groseclose

Tianna Torrilhon-Wood’s set is minimal with two dark flats parting to reveal a lit scrim behind a raised platform. This design highlights the emotional peaks and valleys throughout the show as well as Stacey Walston’s gorgeous lighting; the throbbing undercurrent of Brianna Fallon’s sound design set the heartbeat of the show. In front of the platform is a memorial shrine typically seen at accidents or scenes of tragedy that includes candles, flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, photos, signs of protest, and various other trinkets. While it is barer than a typical Stray Cat show, it neither lacks in effect nor detail. The entire production staff understood that the minimalistic set design and impactful staging serve as a backdrop for the actors' compelling portrayals.

Review: UNTIL THE FLOOD at Stray Cat Theatre
Photo by John Groseclose

Ryan L. Jenkins commands the stage as the storyteller. Her intensity, focus, and rawness grip the audience making a person sit on the edge of their seat, fidget nervously, and lean back in awe as each new character comes to life. With a simple costume piece or prop, curated effectively by Jessie Tully and Dawn Conry respectively, each transition flowed into the other with that feeling of community. One moment in particular that was masterful was her transition from Hassan to Connie. The juxtaposition between the two, leaving a hyped-up teenager and becoming a quiet, unassuming teacher, was a lesson in nuance and character study. Jenkins gave the soul of Ferguson and worked the floor to the very end.

Review: UNTIL THE FLOOD at Stray Cat Theatre
Photo by Amanda Keegan

This review cannot conclude without giving significant props to Tanner J. Conley, the understudy who graced the stage on Sunday, February 25. His performance held the audience in his own right, bringing so much of his heart into the vulnerable characters. When he, as Paul, looks out to the crowd and says “That could be me. That really could have been me. That could have been my blood flowing on this street. And I think: I got one more year to get out. Just one more year. Please, God. Let me get out. Just let me get out.” The pleading and the ache are palpable enough to pierce hearts and wet eyes. At the end of the play, his query of how many boys, both white and black, are lost and misunderstood in this world, hits world-weary and all-too poignant.

Both Jenkins and Conley hit hard emotionally creating characters that could be your neighbor, coworker, or your best friend – each person begging to be heard as they grapple with their lives in the bubble of the Brown shooting. As one of the more chilling and polarizing characters, Dougray, both Jenkins and Conley’s portrayal of him left the audience speechless and still - each interpretation terrifying and altogether too real to come face-to-face with on stage.

Until the Flood delivers unforgettable portrayals of characters based on real-life people grappling with profound societal challenges in the wake of a communal tragedy. It leaves a lasting impact, compelling audiences to confront uncomfortable truths and inspire a renewed commitment to empathy, understanding, and social justice. It emerges as a moving and timely piece of theatre that demands to be seen and heard. ongoing societal debates. This is the final week of production. Make sure you don’t miss this profound and gripping theatrical experience. 

Until the Flood runs through March 2, 2024, for Stray Cat Theatre at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ. For more information, please call (480) 227-1766 or visit straycattheatre.org.

Review: UNTIL THE FLOOD at Stray Cat Theatre
Photo by John Groseclose



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