6/7/2023 IN THE CONTINUUM Synchronicity Theatre
Abigail and Nia are women with little in common. Nia lives in L.A., has a taste for poetry and rap, has a history of bad choices, is a tidal force of energy, and is currently on probation for stealing from her employer. Abigail lives in Zimbabwe, is a newscaster for a government-run station, has a son and a husband, is a focus of calm to those around her, and has a history of good decisions.
Tonight, they share Synchronicity’s stage.
Tonight, they both realize they are pregnant.
Tonight, both being monogamous, they rejoice in the love they have for their partners.
Tonight, they learn they are HIV positive.
Playwrights Danai Gurira (Eclipsed) and Nikkole Salter want to delve into the sobering statistics regarding AIDS among black women in both America and Africa. This could very easily have been a wallow in sorrow and betrayal, a screed against the politicalization of HIV and women, an angry primal scream about the capacity that men have for betrayal. In the Continuum is indeed all of those things, but it is couched in a stylized portrait of two women, who, despite their differences, are part of a continuum of humanity that cannot be denied. Or at least SHOULD not be denied.
This play is basically a series of monologues performed by two actors. Their “base” characters are indeed on opposite sides of the world, but they also play other women in the lives of Nia and Abigail – friends, mothers, maids, parole officers, all “other” women who display a depressing level of judgmentalism. And it is ultimately a moving portrait of two societies, two countries, two women, two lives.
I first read this script about a month ago, and truth to tell, found it exciting in form and technique, lyrically eloquent in language and passion, intriguing in structure. Truth to tell, I had the highest hopes for this production, especially considering how well Synchronicity staged Ms. Gurira’s Eclipsed in 2017. And I was not disappointed. This production is a benchmark of talent, of craft, of design, of execution.
One conceit that works especially well is the ambivalent interactions between the actors, despite being on different continents. A nurse scolds Abigail in Zimbabwe and Nia responds in L.A. The characters “bump into” each other as they enter and exit. A tissue discarded in Africa is picked up in America. The cast makes clear who and where they are, and the monologues often come across as echoing harmonies and thematically-linked “conversations.” This is a remarkably clever script, and I really enjoyed wallowing in its intricacies.
But it is the performances of Dionna Davis (Abigail and others) and Asha Basha Duniani (Nia and others) that bring this show to life. Ms. Duniani (who was also in Eclipsed) in particular is able to provide Nia with a core of energy that should be able to light the world, a remarkable joie de vivre that was not apparent reading the script, but that now seems totally central to the character. Ms. Davis successfully navigates a South African accent (and even some untranslated outbursts) without sacrificing clarity or sense.
Director Valeka Jessica deserves a lot of credit – the script provides little guide to staging, but here, all choices serve to enhance the story and the characters. The script’s scene description is “bare stage with two chairs.” But here, designer Stephanie Busing gives us a central platform lined with boxes, a stool that is often shared, broken fencing along the sides and a background “cyc” that is really an off-white wall that could be alternately cracked plaster or street schematics. Andre Allen’s lighting beautifully differentiates the two locations even as it highlights the journeys we are witnessing.
In the Continuum reminds us that behind news-feed statistics are real women, betrayed by the men in their lives, forced by circumstance to “hide in plain sight.” Even though Nia and Abigail never really meet, they form a bond that will give them the strength to (perhaps) survive and thrive. It is a reminder that even now, even still, “hiding” an HIV Positive diagnosis serves only to keep the epidemic alive.
In the Continuum is a devastatingly moving and ultimately exhilarating experience that should not be missed.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #SynchroTheatre #InTheContinuum)