In the Continuum” is an interesting offshoot of the one-person-show paradigm: It’s a two-person show, but the actors never speak with each other. This choice by playwright-actors Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter emphasizes how women in very different settings are dealing with the same problems and highlights their characters’ relative isolation. Unfortunately, it robs the show of the dramatic possibilities in seeing such fine performers interact with one other.
In Zimbabwe, Abigail (Gurira) works as a TV news anchorwoman. She has her sights set on bigger and better things, secure that her imperious manner will eventually get her a job on CNN. Yet, as much as she might rail against the uncouth “Zimbos” she feels surrounded by and the frequent power outages, acting like a diva-in-training won’t get her out of Zimbabwe. When she discovers her husband has infected her with HIV, Abigail’s dreams of escape and success collapse around her.
In South Central L.A., meanwhile, young high school poet Nia (Salter) is excited to tell her boyfriend she’s pregnant. She imagines he’ll be thrilled, and that they’ll get married. Unfortunately, he also has infected her with HIV, and all of her cherished plans begin to fall apart.
Salter is immensely likeable as Nia, bringing welcome humor to the play. She’s thoroughly convincing as the somewhat innocent character, which makes Nia’s tragedy that much more affecting. Salter also excels in dramatic portrayals, particularly as Nia’s bitter mother, who recites a litany of AIDS misinformation followed by the self-righteous declaration “You got to know your history.”
Gurira is excellent as Abigail, a haughty striver brought low, and she’s particularly effective at the play’s conclusion, where Abigail begs her mother not to let her die the way she has seen friends with AIDS die. She’s also very funny as the local “witch doctor” playing up for the tourists and sharing the Zimbabwean acronym for AIDS: “American Ideas for Discouraging Sex.”
Director Robert O’Hara keeps the energy high with a fast pace and constantly places the contrast and similarities between the lead characters center stage.
Peter R. Feuchtwanger’s large set walls put the action in an eternal sunset, all browns and oranges, which brings a certain warmth to the production.