In the Continuum and Other Plays: Part Four …a critical analysis of the short play


THE play ‘In the Continuum’ is by far the longest of all the four plays in the anthology.
It is, like others, a One-Act play, but with 17 scenes.
It derives its uniqueness from its style.
Although it has many actors on the stage, their roles are acted out by two actors on the actual stage.
These actors are linked by juxtaposition which is the overarching comparative tool in the entire play.
Actor ‘One’ is juxtaposed to Actor ‘Two’, each playing the roles of several different actors. The settings are also juxtaposed.
Actor ‘One’ is stationed in Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa.
Actor ‘Two’ is stationed in Los Angeles, Califonia, USA.
So too are their actions and experiences juxtaposed.
And equally so are the thematic concerns shared and rolled out by the experiences of these archetypal characters.
The two worlds they inhabit are worlds apart physically, but again linked by juxtaposition.
Then there is a third character who happens to be the target audience of the play.
That character is physically absent in the play, but is presently felt in the texture of the play as each Actor addresses him in his invisibility.
That explains why the utterances of the Actors are far from soliloquy.
They all address this invisible character.
Both Actor ‘One’ and Actor ‘Two’ address this anonymous ‘Other’.
You can feel the ubiquitous presence of this listener, this hearer, throughout the play.
This character is you.
This character is me.
This character is everyone.
It is the final recipient of the message that comes through from the experiences of the two Actors in the two parts of the world.
The play focuses on several contemporary issues although it places prime on HIV and AIDS. These thematic concerns overlap and this overlapping is the essence which the tithe captures. ‘Continuum’ refers to a relationship of continuity.
A continuum is something continuous of which no separate parts are discernible.
The literary meaning of the title ‘In the continuum’ is that the fate of the black person in the two parts of the world is the same.
It is linked by history and experience.
It is the life of the black person conditioned by the continuum of history from slavery to colonialism and from colonialism to neo-colonialism (phases of history which catapult the black into a vicious cycle of poverty, of predatory victimisation of fellow victims, HIV and AIDS and death).
The sorriest reality is the seemingly unstoppable disintegration of the Africa family in the wake of forces of modernisation.
They tear the Africa unity apart.
At the beginning of the continuum is a pair of girls, Abigal and Nia.
They are seated on different sides of the two worlds.
These young girls symbolise Africa’s initial innocence.
The Prologue presents a fitting symbol which is a necessary baseline against which to measure moral deviations of the last scenes.
The succeeding scenes pick on various highlights in rites of passage through which mankind passes from conception, birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence through to adulthood and exit from the land of the living.
These life phases mark different phases in the continuum.
The Prologue introduces us to the games of youth (‘hopscotch’ in America and ‘nhodo’ in Africa).
Scene One introduces us to the shattered dreams of young adults in both worlds.
Abigail regrets that the premarital promises have not seen the light of day.
Her husband is far from the ideal husband of her youth.
She complaints: “These men they want to play away and have us at home at the same time.” To complicate her dilemma Abigail is infected by both another pregnancy and HIV just as her pal on the other side of the world, Nia, who has also been infected by her boyfriend Darnell who has proceeded to dump her (offering to pay her US$5 000 in lien of marriage).
The tragic experiences of these two women are products of stolen history.
Petronella diagnoses the derailing of Africans history correctly when she mimics the bigotry of those who authored and continue to author the miseries of Africa.
She says: “Oh those poor Africans who can’t help themselves.
“Let’s bring them our great answers.”
Okay, they are manufacturing some drugs here, but believe me they’re not the best kind and how is anyone supposed to be able to afford them long term in this economy?
It’s a real mess.
And you want to know why?
You want to know why?
I will tell you why?
It’s because we have been programmed.
Because we look to them as our source of hope and redemption.
Meanwhile we have the answers and we don’t know it. I have been thinking about our own traditional African healing and I . . .
Nothing can come nearer the truth than this surgical analysis.
Petronella has summarised the tragedy of myopia in Africa.
Colonial indoctrination through force and persuasion across the centuries has created a dependency syndrome which is a virus worse than HIV among Africans.
How can you expect your tormentor to be your liberator?
Western values have utterly destroyed African culture to a point of no redemption.
You only have to listen to Nia’s mother immoral sermon to Nia: “You should ask that lil’ boyfriend of yours, Darnell, for US$400.
“He’ll buy them pants for you . . . since he the one like to get in ‘em so often.
“Don’t think I didn’t usta hear your little narrow behind climbing out the window to go oochiecoochie with that boy.
“Like you the first one discovered how to sneak out the house.
“I invented that trick.
“I already been everywhere you been, Nia . . . I’ma not gonna raise your kids cuz you couldn’t use a condom. Oh, Oh” (p.78).
In African morality this behaviour is un-motherly.
Any critic coming from an Africa-centred positionality is bound to treat such utterances as lacking moral probity.
Such a ‘lecture’ which is delivered like a sermon is bound to be perceived as not only perversive, but also socially unacceptable.
No African parent would want to be portrayed in this light let alone boast of having excelled at such sexual escapades.
Its content is morally toxic.
In fact the mother is not worried about the immorality of premarital sex.
Rather she is against having unprotected sex, even then for the wrong reason.
The point is in this dog-eat-dog Westernised world, sex has lost its creative and procreative value.
It has become casual entertainment for both mother and daughter.
This is not how sex is perceived in African worldview.
Notice that in her concluding remarks, the mother sums up her state of shock against the ‘burden’ of grandchildren.
She is ostensibly not against premarital sex.
She is against the responsibility of caring for anyone including her own daughter whom she already considers a financial parasite.
And one wonders what moral jungle this is where a mother is repelled by the good.
The negation of family is what comes strong at the end of the play.
It is everyone’s resolve.
What world can exist as a constellation of individuals?


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