Review: Force Continuum (Eclipse Theatre)

| May 6, 2017

Lionel Gentle and Maurice Demus star as Grandfather and Dece in Force Continuum, Eclipse Theatre            
      
 

Force Continuum

Written by Kia Corthron
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru May 21  |  tix: $35  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
    


    
  

Wonderful performances aside, production is all over the place

  

Lionel Gentle, Richard Hatcher, Diana Coates and Terence Sims star in Force Continuum, Eclipse Theatre

    
Eclipse Theatre Company presents
    
Force Continuum

  
Review by Lauren Whalen

Representation matters, and Eclipse Theatre Company has always understood that. Their 25th anniversary season features the work of a black female playwright, but the company’s attention to diversity goes way back. Eclipse is the only Midwest theater company to showcase one playwright per season, and they’ve never limited themselves to dead white men. From Pearl Cleage to Eugene O’Neill to Terrence McNally, to last year’s stunning season spotlighting Stephen Adly Guirgis, Eclipse strives to present a myriad of human experiences as well as the base emotions that unite us all. Sadly, their season opener, Kia Corthron’s Force Continuum, is more disconnected than not, a combination of shallow writing and baseless direction that not even excellent acting can save.

LaNora Terrae Hayden and Tyshaun Lang star as Mrai and Dray in Force Continuum, Eclipse TheatreForce Continuum follows Dece (Maurice Demus), an orphaned young black man in New York City who’s experienced his share of police brutality. The only difference is, Dece comes from a family of cops and, despite the violent death of his father in the line of duty, has become a police officer himself. Dece has the support of his kind and wise grandfather (Lionel Gentle), but is still haunted by memories of his parents (his mother succumbed to cancer) and the conflict between being a black man and being a cop. What does a “good” cop do, exactly? How does Dece reconcile the prejudice he experiences in his everyday life and the hatred he experiences doing his job? And when a routine traffic stop results in tragedy, Dece finds himself at a crossroads.

Force Continuum’s plot and subject matter are both compelling and timely, in an era when black teenagers are shot for wearing hoodies and purchasing snacks at a convenience store. When the main character is both a black man and a police officer, things should become even more interesting. The problem with Force Continuum is the playwright trying to do too much at once. The play hops around in time, with the majority of the actors playing multiple characters, and the transitions aren’t always clear. One of the subplots feels superfluous and the “resolution” feels more like Corthron wrote herself into a corner and wasn’t sure what else to do.

Anthony Venturini, Maurice Demus and Joe McCauley star in Force Continuum, Eclipse TheatreLionel Gentle and Maurice Demus star as Grandfather and Dece in Force Continuum, Eclipse Theatre Maurice Demus and LaNora Terrae Hayden star as Dece and Cobbs in Force Continuum, Eclipse TheatreLaNora Terrae Hayden, Maurice Demus and Anthony Venturini star in Force Continuum, Eclipse Theatre

Michael Aaron Pogue’s well-meaning but inexperienced direction doesn’t help matters. This is Pogue’s directorial debut, after acting in several productions with Eclipse and serving as a teaching artist for Court Theatre. While Pogue is clearly emotionally invested, he’s clearly overwhelmed starting with such a heavy, meaningful play. His staging is awkward at best, and detracts from the importance of the story. It’s unfortunate, because Force Continuum contains several wonderful performances. Demus radiates a quiet intelligence as Dece, who faces the ultimate conflict between who he is and who he wants to be. As Grandfather, Gentle is a strong guiding force, and Diana Coates has some great moments as Dece’s late mother (in flashbacks) and a scrappy homeless woman. Finally, Anthony Venturini brings real humanity to Dece’s partner Flip, a family man who pays the ultimate price.

Corthron is an award-winning and prolific playwright, who has traveled worldwide to work with students and theater companies, and contributed short plays to theatrical evenings addressing current issues. Perhaps Force Continuum isn’t her strongest work – while Eclipse chooses excellent playwrights, they don’t always pick their strongest shows. I’m eager to see the rest of the Corthron season, and hope that the next two productions will only improve.

  
Rating: ★★½
  

Force Continuum continues through May 21 at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. (map), with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm.  Tickets are $35, with half-price rush tickets available online through The Athenaeum Theater (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at EclipseTheatre.com(Running time: 2 hours with one intermission)

Maurice Demus, Joe McCauley and Anthony Venturini star in Force Continuum, Eclipse Theatre

Photos by Scott Dray


  

artists

cast

Anthony Venturini (Cop 1/Flip/Second Cop), Joe McCauley (Cop 2, Cop on Guard, Hudson, White Cop, Peter, First Cop, Fuller), Maurice Demus (Dece), Lionel Gentle (Grandfather), Diana Coates (Homeless Woman, Mother, Tamra Jane), Terence Sims (Man/Father/Marley), Tyshaun Lang (Dray, Dealer, Bartender, Eric), LaNora Terraé Hayden (Mrai, Cobbs, Margaret, Tina), Richard Hatcher (Young Dece, Kevin Martell, Quinton), Brain Bradford, James Gordon, A.J. Miller, Noah Robinson, Destini Huston, Samuel Campbell III (understudies)

behind the scenes

Michael Aaron Pogue (director), Kevin Scott and Nathaniel Swift (producers), Michael Stults (scenic design), Vanessa Thomas (properties design), Kathleen Dickinson and Ashley Bowman (production managers), Michael Goebel, Collin Helou (lighting design), Ashley Roberson, Zena Sutherland (assistant directors), Paige Fodor (stage manager), Sebby Woldt (sound design), Kaycee Filson (assistant stage manager), JP Pierson (casting director), Rachel Lambert (costume design), Sammi Grant (dialect coach), Scott Dray (photos)

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Category: 2017 Reviews, Athenauem, Eclipse Theatre Company, Lauren Whalen

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