Dael Orlandersmith presents Until The Flood, interviews and accounts of the Michael Brown shooting in Missouri, 2014. Theatre Editor Daniel Perks watches through misty tears and cries in the toilet afterwards:

There is so much pain, so much violence, so much anger. It seeps through the cracks of Dael Orlandersmith’s production Until The Flood spills forth from my eyes, erupting as an emotional, undammable torrent.

It soaks the pages I use to make notes on during the show. It stains my glasses, clings to my lashes, burrows into my insides, desperately trying to find a home, solace, comfort.

No comfort is forthcoming. No one is here to hug the hurt away, to give solace, to fill the chasmic void opening within me. This time I am forced to confront a harsh reality – Until The Flood stops, it will overwhelm me.

Until Flood Traverse Theatre
Dael Orlandersmith (image courtesy of Alex Brenner)

I am part of a majority, sat too comfortably in a theatre predominantly full of white people. We are listening to the story of black teenager Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson in Missouri, 2014.

And I am complicit in this imbalance, in the injustice.

I listen to the interviews that writer and performer Orlandersmith so adeptly brings to life, those in and around St Louis at the time of the shooting. I have heard similar accounts on the news, in documentaries and films, through songs and spoken word. I have heard tale upon tale of racial violence in the UK and from America. These supposedly progressive Western societies have revealed themselves to be unequal and unfair, unwieldy and unyielding.

And I have nodded, commented. I have been angry and opinionated. Then, like the privileged white man I am, I have forgotten about it and moved on with my life. Because I can, because my whiteness and my maleness have always given me that power.

I haven’t earned it. It has been bestowed upon me, hammered into me.

Abuse is colour-blind.

Dael Orlandersmith (image courtesy of Alex Brenner)

So, to sit in Until The Flood and have no way to distract myself, nothing except to listen to the earnest, honest, simple and powerful words woven by Orlandersmith, is overwhelming. To be confronted by such a thirst for something better, something fairer, is overwhelming. To feel the terror that, at any moment, your life can be stolen by the squeeze of one finger, is overwhelming.

Black teenagers Hassan and Paul are angry, scared, looking for a way out, “cos good don’t matter”. How can I ignore their pleas?

How can I let the inferno blazing in the retired Louisa’s eyes pass me by? It’s such a steady, steely, resolute gaze that Orlandersmith fixes on me, seemingly just me.

Until Flood Traverse Theatre
Dael Orlandersmith (image courtesy of Alex Brenner)

So, I cry.

I cry because men aren’t supposed to.

I cry because middle aged white man Dougray wants a clean, white, pure world where he can teach his five-year-old son to punch a group of black boys without consequence. Dougray claims it’s in self-defence, but it comes from a place of bitterness and righteousness. I cry as each of Orlandersmith’s verbal blows rains down on my soul, assaulting my inner child who is scared and afraid and cannot hide.

And I cry with hope. I cry when universalist minister Edna reminds us that “love cannot be limited” as she talks about her romantic relationships, first with partner Alice and then with husband Kevin. Relationships where people come together and where skin colour, sexuality or gender don’t hold back true love.

I cry harder as Orlandersmith cleverly escalates the emotional intensity in the room through each story, each account, each remark. I cry as Mary Louise Gierger’s subtle lighting design brings the spots down and amplifies the glow from the In Memoriam candles scattered about Takeshi Kata’s set.

I cry with pain and hope and joy and sorrow and concern.

And I am wracked by silent sobs as Orlandersmith ends Until The Flood as herself. Not in character, not with a final a recollection from those interviews conducted in St Louis, spring 2015. But with a poem that rallies against toxic masculinity, against the attitude towards young boys not to weep or care or be heard.

Dael Orlandersmith (image courtesy of Alex Brenner)

“It’s about being fair”.

“It’s not about appearances at all”.

My tears pour forth a catharsis. They shimmer with praise until Orlandersmith’s creation, Until The Flood, is no more.

★★★★★

Until The Flood is now playing at Traverse Theatre until 25 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.