Review: Until the Flood at Traverse

This is one of those shows where you expect a whole company to appear at the curtain call, and yet only one actor takes her bow. That actor is Dael Orlandersmith who, as writer and performer, quietly captures the spirit of a whole community. In Neel Keller’s mesmerising production, she becomes everyone she interviewed for the piece, a rich, thoughtful response to the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

Verbatim theatre is often only about what is spoken, its focus on the first-hand testimonies of real people. It’s as if the words by themselves have a talismanic power. Until the Flood is not strictly verbatim – Orlandersmith has crafted the interviews – but she goes one step further and fully takes on the physical form of her interviewees. She is a woman entering her 60s, but she morphs fluidly from a loose-limbed black teenager to a retired white police officer; from a liberal white teacher to an ecumenical black minister. She picks up on their body language and their rhythms, their reticence and their urgency.

Ripe with non-judgemental humanity, Until the Flood is only occasionally the angry piece you’d expect about such a divisive event. Yes, the young black man prowls like a caged animal full of indignation at the injustice of racism. And yes, the avuncular ex-cop has an edge of defensiveness as he justifies his former colleagues in a once all-white force. But not only does Orlandersmith let them all have their say, she also ushers in voices of reconciliation.

None of her subjects seeks conflict, all want to live peaceably and to thrive. Whether through negotiation or prayer, they yearn to go beyond the righting of wrongs (the shooting itself is so egregious it hardly seems worth discussing) and to create a society where everyone is treated with respect. Orlandersmith offers no answers but does provide a sliver of hope.

Until the Flood, Traverse Theatre, 1-25 Aug (not 19), times vary

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