There are two women in the powerful must-see-play In the Continuum and yet it’s almost a one-person show. Save for a few directorially clever juxtapositions where the two talk at each other (but never to each other), the two stories, the two characters, the two worlds (USA and Africa), never meet. They alternate in rapid succession, one world bleeding into the next, but always apart. They are linked only by their parallels: two bright young women, suddenly diagnosed with AIDS, suddenly in that continuum. The singular use of monologue (though each actor plays multiple characters in their story) only emphasizes that while the two actors share a stage, they remain—like too many good people—abandoned and alone. The stage, large and bare, heightens their helplessness; the brick walls look on like the world, mortared and remorseless.
Written and performed by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, In the Continuum never risks prettifying or glorifying AIDS (as other playwrights like Tony Kushner may have inadvertently done). These two women—Nia from South Central, LA (Salter) and Abi from Harare, Zimbabwe (Gurira)—are never shown any pity nor any escape into fantasy. Even the tribal witchdoctor admits, “We cannot cure that.” At best they are offered stopgap measures and at worst, vilified and accused of being less than human. It doesn’t matter that Abi’s husband unwittingly picked up the disease from one of his secret affairs or that Nia’s smug lover knew (and didn’t care) that he had AIDS: they, as women, are guilty. They are guilty because they are women.
It’s good that Gurira and Salter are such talented character actors (though only just out of NYU’s graduate program). To live in Nia and Abi’s shoes for ninety minutes might be too depressing. Instead, the two double as other characters in their stories—prostitutes, mothers, do-gooders, nurses, cousins, &c—although always keeping the two narratives separate. Any of the dark comedy is at our expense—their narratives are directed at us, and we become their suffering protagonists. The knife-sharp dialogue, raw and from the heart, doesn’t hold back either, and every moment builds towards the two soul-baring climaxes of In the Continuum. And yet, it is the subtle knife which twists deepest, and the accidental slights are worse than the openly vindictive ones. “Love between a man and a woman turns into death around here,” says a prostitute, as if that’s just how it is. That thought, even without the engaging story and acting, is frightening enough.
Should you see this play? I can only offer you the play’s sage advice: “Should a dope fiend in a crackhouse run from the police? Hell yes!”
Perry Street Theater (31 Perry Street)
Tickets: $45-$60 w/ $20 Student Rush (212-868-4444)
Performances: Monday-Saturday @ 8:00; Sunday @ 3:00
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.