Dael Orlandersmith’s compassionate exercise in documentary theatre explores the aftermath of the shooting in 2014 of Michael Brown, a young black man, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri.
Drawing on a series of interviews, Orlandersmith plays eight people, each offering different perspectives on the repercussions of that night – a moving human collage.
The characters include: a black female minister; an older woman who still vividly remembers the “sundown laws”, under which black people were required to leave certain towns before dark; a white school teacher who, through admitting that she felt some sympathy for the cop, loses a friend; a black teenager, who uses bravado to mask his fear and frustration; a white electrician, who nonchalantly and chillingly describes what it would be like to gun down a group of young black men.
Rippling through this are reflections on race, poverty and gentrification in the US, as well as observations on how neighbourhoods change over time and what this means.
The piece, which premiered in St Louis, has been performed around the US, and will transfer to London’s Arcola Theatre after the fringe, is sensitively directed by Neel Keller and features a commanding performance from Orlandersmith.
She doesn’t offer a chameleonic inhabitation of each character – she doesn’t do much to modify her voice or posture – and yet she somehow supplies a sense of each of these people and, in doing so, builds a community on stage.
She performs all this in front of Takeshi Kata’s set of flowers and candles, a memorial to Brown and an ever-present reminder of the lost life at the heart of this story.