Candles and flowers fill the stage, transforming the space into a shared, public site of grief and remembrance. Pulitzer Prize finalist, poet and performer Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood is a series of monologues built from interviews with St Louis residents one year after police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed local teenager Michael Brown.
From elderly retired teacher Louisa to bitterly racist father Dougray, Orlandersmith radiates the stories from within, making it so that the Traverse’s audience can picture these people as easily as they can hear their voices.
This kind of near-verbatim, almost-documentary theatre is well established, but Orlandersmith has a phenomenal hold over it. She embodies quirks of speech and movement with precision and control, creating a distressing state-of-the-nation play from tiny but overwhelming details. When she plays Paul, a young Black teenager, her right leg twitches almost imperceptibly with stress.
Fluid and flowing, each monologue feels as if it is unravelling, unrushed. The conversation spans racism, structural violence, religion, gentrification, education, sexuality, fear. The longer people talk, the more they open up – or the more space they are given to reveal themselves. Poison seeps in to the language of well-meaning but patronising liberals, or in the inability to accept the structural benefits of being born white: “I did NOT come from privilege,” repeats one man, defiantly. When Orlandersmith finally steps outside of the interviewees and assumes the role of poet, she tips the play slowly but steadily towards the promise of a reckoning – but not the kind that absolves.