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A CurtainUp Review
In The Continuum
by Liza Zapol
The Original Review
In The Continuum is written and performed by Nikkole Salter and Danai Gurira, and it clearly addresses and brings to light many of the problems that face individuals with AIDS. The actresses, of American and African origin, portray the story of Nia, an impoverished and yet promising nineteen-year-old woman from Los Angeles, and that of Abigail, a married and successful Zimbabwean woman. In the course of a day, both women reveal that they are pregnant, and then discover that they have HIV.
The stories occur simultaneously and seamlessly. The play opens beautifully, with the women singing and dancing around a circle of light. Despite the cliche, it is a jubilant beginning. From this point forward, each of the performers occupy half of the stage. Gurira weaves the story of Abigail, and proceeds to play the characters she encounters: an easily distracted nurse which Abigail visits; a successful female entrepreneur who has made a career out of being the "poster girl for AIDS in Africa" by participating in conferences on AIDS, whom Abigail ends up getting a ride from; a sex worker who is an old friend of Abigail's; a witch doctor; and Abigail's maid. Each of these characters are excellently played.
Interwoven with Abigail's story, Nikkole Salter illustrates the story of Nia as well as those whom she confronts in her day: a reprimanding and humorous social worker; her stern and uncompromising mother, which is extremely well played and resonant; her street smart and avaricious cousin; and the mother of her boyfriend, Darnell.
Transitions between the two tales happen in subtle and haunting ways -- the women interact briefly by responding to stimulus in the others' universe: gunshots become children screaming, words are echoed and transformed. Director Robert O'Hara (who is also a formidable playwright -- he wrote Insurrection: Holding History) does a wonderful job of making the disparate worlds of the two characters to become interdependent.
The set is bare bones, with two stools, wooden floorboards, bare walls, and a small divider to denote the separate acting spaces. This set and style are reminiscent of Woza Albert! a play from the late 1980's which came from the Market Theatre in South Africa, told by two male actors portraying multiple characters, addressing the inhumanity of Apartheid. However, that play seemed to use the imagination more (it was about the events that could unfold if Jesus were to appear in Apartheid South Africa), while this play employs the tools of a realistic melodrama.
The sound design is intricate and helpful in producing a sense of the environment. The performers have simple costumes and add or shift an element to create different characters, which they do very well.
The end may be drawn out, but this is a very clever, important and tear-jerking play. In an era when substantial human issues are often addressed in the theatre with irony and humor, it is gratifying to see an effective melodrama. In The Continuum has a political message without being dogmatic. The playwrights are passionate about doing something to break the continuum of misinformation and silence around the subject of Black women living with AIDS. It seems that their play, by informing audiences and encouraging dialogue, has created another continuum, a continuum of hope.
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Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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>6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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