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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

IN THE CONTINUUM (article first published : 2007-08-4)

Normally, I am a little sceptical at advertising hype that promises such milestones as a “memorable theatre experience” but in the case of In the Continuum which forms part of the Playhouse Company’s South African Women’s Arts Festival programme, the promise holds true.

This is a cutting edge two-hander drama written and performed by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter. Directed by Robert O’Hara, the young women put in extraordinary performances – fun, sensitive, commanding, sassy, tearful – and their versatility is impressive. The story is about Abigail (Danai) in Harare and Nia (Nikkole) in South Central Los Angeles who discover over the course of a weekend that they are not only pregnant but HIV positive.

Representing the Zimbabwe and US links in real life, Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter are passionate about theatre and social activism. In the Continuum began as a graduate school project at New York University's Tisch School for the Arts and became an off-Broadway hit when it opened in New York in 2005, prior to its triumphant tour across the United States. It has appeared in Harare, Johannesburg and Cape Town and was performed at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Scenes knit together seamlessly and often overlap as we follow the parallel emotions of the two women. These include the initial testing process at the clinic, confiding to close friends, dealing with the thought of being separated from beloved children, handling the uncaring parents of their partners; watching the life form inside them grow and finally reaching a point where they may have their say.

Playing to black curtains with the minimum of props and furniture, the actresses fill the Drama stage with ease. Their performances are so riveting that one forgets the absence of any other visual effect. Beautiful and memorable characters emerge – a harassed nurse easily distracted by looking for lunch money tucked somewhere inside her bra; the forthright mother with baby on shoulder telling her daughter to book herself into a shelter as there’s no room at home; a hilarious witchdoctor infuriated by his client’s determination to pre-empt him and the young woman deciding what she will do with the cheque received as a crass “pay off” from her partner’s mother.

In the Continuum is a towering comment about AIDS and the chilling message comes across loud and clear. However, there’s nothing angst-driven here – simply a superb theatrical presentation with an abundance of humour and pathos which shouldn’t be missed. At the poignant ending, one is left feeling buffeted by conflicting emotions. The women showed such strength as they struggled to accept their fate - why didn’t they follow their instincts and blast forth their anger and frustration, announce their HIV positive status publicly and denounce those who had infected them?

On the other hand, such actions are energy-consuming and energy is a precious and vital commodity in their physically deteriorating condition. Does this mean we should accept their decision to handle their status with pride and grace? You decide.

Presented by the Playhouse Company courtesy of the United States Consulate in Durban, In the Continuum has two more performances in the Playhouse Drama: August 4 at 19h30 and August 5 at 15h00. Tickets R45 (R30 Sunday matinee). Book through Computicket or the Playhouse Box Office on 031 369 9540/9596. – Caroline Smart




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