Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Until the Flood
Also see Gil's recent reviews of My Fair Lady, Intimate Apparel, Something Rotten!, and Brian Stokes Mitchell and Lara Downes - A New World A-Comin'
The shooting of Brown ignited weeks of riots and social unrest. A few months afterward, Orlandersmith, commissioned by Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, conducted interviews with dozens of people who lived in the area, and through these intimate conversations weaved together Until the Flood. The diverse cast of characters depicted in the play, white and Black, male and female, young and old, let us hear, first hand, their views and experiences, and their perspectives and reactions to Brown's killing. How they all struggle in their own way to come to terms with the impact of the killing and the damage it causes to themselves, their relatives, friends, and their community is engrossing.
Under Elena Conti's impressive direction, with just a change in her vocal inflection, body language, and facial expressions, along with an added costume piece or prop, Ryan L Jenkins' tour-de-force performance breathes life into each of the individuals in the piece. From a retired white police officer grappling with his role in perpetuating racial bias to a young Black teenager who lived in the apartment complex as Brown who is struggling to just make it one more year until he can move away from the area to go to college in California, Orlandersmith's characters are fully realized and deeply human through Jenkins's majestic delivery. I've seen Jenkins in several plays across the Valley and, while she's always been wonderful, she is truly superb here.
Tiana Torrilhon-Wood's minimalistic set design, which sets the characters' monologues in and around a shrine to Brown composed of candles, signs, and stuffed animals, allows the audience to focus squarely on the words and emotions of the characters. Stacey Walston's subtle lighting shifts also force attention on Jenkins and the character-appropriate costumes by Jessie Tully, Dawn Conry's effective props, and the evocative sound design by Brianna Fallon, immerse the audience in the storytelling.
However, while not every one of the individuals has the views or outcome to their monologue one might think they will, which adds intrigue to the play and forces the viewer to sit up and listen, the play does, somewhat, present a slightly one-dimensional view of race relations in America. There isn't much presented that's new, rather a host of things we've seen in just about every play, film, or TV show that focuses on racial tension and the unjust treatment of minorities by white people. Also, knowing that the characters in the play are fictional composites of the people Orlandersmith interviewed, it does make some of the searing, shocking, and revelatory moments less impactful. Was Dougray, the well-read, educated, white, racist, homophobe who fantasizes lining up the Blacks in Ferguson and gunning them all down to make the city "clean, white, and purified" as it once was, an actual person or did Orlandersmith take bits and pieces of the people she spoke to and add words of her own to create this horrifying individual that, I believe, is the most impactful in the play?
Still, the impact of Until the Flood is undeniably powerful and Ryan L. Jenkins' performance will be remembered for years to come. The play is an important and timely piece of theatre that will, most likely, challenge the audience to confront their own views and feelings on racism, Brown's killing and, unfortunately, so many other killings of Black individuals by white people in the almost ten years since this incident happened.
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 tickets and information, please call 480-227-1766 or visit straycattheatre.org.
Director: Elena Conti