In the Continuum, a brilliant debut from playwrights / performers Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, takes on the AIDS crisis in the African / African-American female community with fierce intelligence, delicate subtlety, powerhouse performances, and most importantly – and potently of all - humor.
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The Encarta Dictionary defines “continuum” as “a link between two things, or a continuous series of things, that blend into each other so gradually and seamlessly that it is impossible to say where one becomes the next.” With regard to In the Continuum, and its intricate threads of storyline and themes attentively woven, as well as the evocative versatility of playwrights / performers Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter…there could be no more appropriate term to title this piece.
The two protagonists are polar opposites in location, class, status: Abigail (Gurira) is a middle class Zimbabwean news reporter, married to an accountant, and a mother; Nia (Salter) is nineteen, African-American, and homeless in L.A., living off of “five finger discounts” from her Nordstrom clerk job, with aspirations to the good life with her hotshot NBA bound boyfriend. However, what allows their story to “blend so seamlessly” is their mutual discoveries of both pregnancy and HIV; In the Continuum is their separate, but shared, struggle to accept their thwarted dreams for upward mobility, taking action on a disease with no known cure and inaccessible treatments, and, most of all, how to confront the men in their lives they are desperate to keep, but who have infected them.
What makes this piece so powerful – and what separates it from other “issue” plays, so to speak - is that nothing is left to cliché; it doesn’t preach to the choir, it makes the choir re-evaluate what they claim to already know about. It honors the intricacy of each unique life while it highlights the common threads that tie us all together. The two women may be victims of their choices - but one also comes to question what choices they had in the narrow confines of their circumstances. A vital strength of this piece is that Gurira and Salter never allow their characters to sink into pathos or melodrama; even at their lowest and most desperate, there is humor to be salvaged, and it becomes the great equalizer between character and audience.
Besides thematically and textually, In the Continuum also excels in its stagecraft, and I dare say that big budget Broadway could take a cue from Gurira, Salter, and director Robert O’Hara – the stark and tasteful simplicity of the lighting, the props, and the blocking in conjunction really let the potency of the writing shine. The transitions, in keeping with the idea of “continuum”, truly were seamless: Gurira and Salter, besides playing their two protagonists, also play their circle of influence. With a mere re-tie of a sash, Gurira is a prep school chum, a prostitute chum, a nurse, even a witch doctor; Salter portrays Nia's nerdy counselor, her hardened estranged mother, her tough talking best friend. The men in question are never present, but their presence is keenly felt.
Lastly, In the Continuum, with all its attributes, would still be unrealized without the powerhouse performances of its two playwrights. Gurira and Salter infuse a three-dimensional humor and vitality into every character they portray; every emotion in their wide range is finely tuned and expertly delivered. This outstanding debut announces that these two women are a tremendous theatrical / socio-political force to be reckoned with.
In the Continuum
@ the Perry Street Theatre
31 Perry Street
Sat 3:00 and 8:00
Through January 14th
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.