Harrison David Rivers’ Words Inspire Three Superb Performances
by Barry David Horwitz
If you want to see a touching, true-to-life drama don’t miss “we are continuous.” This memory play speaks to us poetically in an arena style production that produces chills and wonders. MOM, SON, and HUSBAND (his) invite us to hear their innermost thoughts as they grow closer to each other.
The circular wooden floor, inlaid with an abstract sundial, connects three circling actors. Their movement keeps us in continuous connection with them as they struggle with multiple challenges and surprises.
Harrison David Rivers’ play is a one-of-a-kind confessional that thrills for every one of its 80 minutes. The actors pace the circular stage, catching our eyes as they tell us what happened in that family. The script is precise and poetic. Director ShawnJ West choreographs that beautiful script into a spellbinding staging.
Three actors tell the story of SON who comes out to his strict Christian MOM at 16. Devin A. Cunningham plays Simon, a delight as he tells his story in staccato, intimate tones—the ideal storyteller. He circles the dining table at center stage, using every angle to engage us.
As Simon, Cunningham personalizes Rivers’ lyrical lines with a thoughtful, confident voice. Simon recalls painful times at high school and the lines jump to life:
I wanted someone to give me a sign
Or a significant look
Or an ‘accidental’ brush of a shoulder or a fingertip
Or a note in my locker
‘I’m like you’
Or even better
‘I like you.’
Cunningham invests the speech with charm and humor, making us love Simon even more. When he is cast as a Black Atticus Finch, Simon makes humor of that, too.
Alicia Stamps makes MOM monumental. This Mom, called Ora, is someone we want to know. She is caring but courageous, compassionate but stern, religious but worldly. MOM is full of contradictions as she struggles with the unexpected. But she adjusts and re-calibrates quickly, a miracle of logic and restraint.
Watching and listening to Stamps is like having a conversation with a woman who listens closely and adjusts her antennae. Constantly alert and ever-changing, Ora takes a world-changing journey exploring love plus acceptance:
And so I do not know what my son does in bed because I have never asked him.
And I have never asked because my son’s sex life is his business, well, his and whomever he chooses to spend his time with, no matter how I might feel about it.
Playwright Rivers shows that coming out is both a personal and a political act. It’s an action that has repercussions well beyond the person.
If Harvey Milk did not come out gay publicly, we would never have national acceptance of gay folks, gay marriage, or gay adoption. Even in today’s press, the new extremist Speaker of the House has condemned gay people and gay rights.
All three characters are vivid and continuous, they stay with us long after the play is over.
As the mother of a gay man, Ora knows her son is different even before he does—she struggles between her son’s “difference” and her husband’s intransigence. Her husband Hoyt, never appears, but he is a heavy weight for Ora, as she tries to navigate between father and son.
But she never gives up, pacing the stage, squaring the circle. Stamps plays the kind of eye-to-eye Mom anyone would want—especially a gay boy. Do not miss this superb chamber trio that lays bare the beauty of three people’s continuous love.
“we are continuous” by Harrison David Rivers, directed by ShawnJ West, set designed by Isaac Fine, lighting by Stephanie Anne Johnson, sound design by Ray Archie, by New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco. Info: nctcsf.org – to November 26, 2023.
Cast: Devin Cunningham, Alicia Stamps, and Walter Zarnowitz.
Banner photo: Walter Zarnowitz, Alicia Stamps, and Devin A. Cunningham. Photos by Lois Tema