"In the Continuum"
Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven
Certainly the purpose of “In the Continuum,” now on the main stage at Yale Repertory Theatre, is worthy indeed! It is to graphically depict the AIDS epidemic among blacks in this country and Africa as well. Specifically, two actresses (writer-performers Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter) portray a gallery of black American and African women (and men), two of them tragically affected by the current crisis.
But, alas, a gap exists between purpose and delivery. Something has gone awry in this two-woman show. Both the material itself and the production at Yale Rep fall short of worthy goals.
This is surprising, given the apparent success of “In the Continuum” to date. It has played on numerous stages before coming to New Haven, apparently to considerable acclaim (according to its promotional material). From its 2005 opening at Primary Stages in New York, it has gone on to Africa, to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, and to many venues in this country.
What has gone wrong at Yale Rep? For starters, “Continuum” cries out for intimacy, as the characters pour out their hearts, an intimacy that gets lost on the large open stage. Secondly, Danai Gurira (an American-born actress raised in Zimbabwe) uses such strong inflections that one finds it nigh impossible to acclimate to its rhythm. Moreover, her speech is peppered with Zimbabwean phrases. Finally, one is hard put to differentiate the numerous characters who parade across the stage. What is she saying, and whom is she portraying at any given time?
Nikkole Salter does better, perhaps because her American sound and her American characters are clearly recognizable. In fact, three of her characters--the young pregnant girl, the harried mother, the self-assured older cousin—all give memorable monologues. Any one of these separate monologues has the making of a moving piece in itself.
But overall “In the Continuum” is rife with confusion. It is not until half-way through the 90-minute non-stop program that two parallel stories begin to emerge. Two young women, separated by half a world, are pregnant. Each has been impregnated by an AIDS-infected mate, and each will produce an AIDS-infected baby.
Gurira and Salter certainly have a praiseworthy, valuable and potentially-dramatic message to convey. And, in transporting the universal to the specific, they are on the right track. Individual stories are far more effective than abstract discussions. Moreover, both actresses show strong acting skills which could be put to good purpose.
Given this potential, there is surely the making of a fine play. But, at present, it is not happening at the Yale Repertory Theatre.
-- Irene Backalenick
Jan. 18, 2007