Force Continuum – Let’s Talk Cop
I really need a drink. I mean seriously, Cohesion Theatre Company’s new venue does offer free parking and a plethora of untapped potential, but there’s no alcohol. And trust me, the show, as you might guess, is heavy; a drink would be advised.
Force Continuum is a non-sequential look at three generations of African-American police officers, and is set (in the most modern segments) in the 90s in New York. The only real tip to the that decade is the music (Jessica Hutchinson) that had me nodding my head with high school nostalgia. According to director Rosiland Cauthen’s note, the play centers on “issues of police brutality, race relations, Black Lives Matter, community policing, [and] police deemed as the enemy.” The tumultuous tenor of the show is indeed brutal, but there are some tangents that don’t always focus on these main, stated issues. The grandfather (Josh Thomas) is the center, and delivers the titular monologue, about the use of force that may be used against a resisting subject. This character bridges the generation gap and towards the end, extends cookies and sagacity from the past to the present. He is stalwart and dynamic, the pillar of the family and the show.
Besides the officers, there is a vignette early on that depicts another family, fractured and trying to do the best that they can. Dray (Thaddeus Street) gives a powerful performance as a high school student with indignation towards the world. But his story is hard to follow. The audience is left to assume that he is beaten by the police and hospitalized. Later, his sister is accidentally killed in police custody, and in the end, he is in a wheelchair attending a police officer’s funeral in which he claims he is “family,” but there is nothing else to suggest this relationship.
There are moments of intense action. Father (Malcolm Anomnachi) gives an impassioned speech about his participation in a group beating of a perceived perpetrator. Between the way the lines are clipped and Anomnachi’s passion boiling over, some of the story gets lost. His acting is top-notch; the play could use, however, some clarity to drive home the point. Especially because the plot here is very crucial to tying the three generations together, not by blood, but by compassion and struggle.
Continuum is indeed, though, centered around police brutality. To this end, the Sandra Bland footage is shown multiple times as a projection. It does a fantastic job of opening up conversation about the nature of an insanely controversial topic. Flip (Bobby Hennenburg), a white cop with 5 kids who seems to be one of “the good guys”, makes a split second decision about a woman who appears to be on drugs and “resisting arrest.” As Dece (Terrance Fleming) points out when questioned at the precinct, “maybe there needs to be something else in the training.” The grandfather also reinforces these ideas about use of force…but he was a housing officer in NYPD, not a street cop pulling “buy and busts” like his grandson. If Flip has five kids at home and is struggling, how able is he to range through various levels of engagement in an instant? The play does a nice job of not only addressing the victim, but another side, too: those police officers, black and white, who are honestly trying to do their best. In fact, another theme that is broached is the staggering rate of police suicide.
Glen Haupt does his best of five roles when he plays a jaded, cynical officer trying to help two young cops beat a conviction for the accidental death of a woman in handcuffs, who happened to be asthmatic. His demeanor, stance, and even hair tell the tragedy of his burnout and callously careful manipulation of facts.
The lighting (Lana Riggins) and costumes (Stylz) are contemporary and supportive but the projections (Nick Morrison) confused me slightly. It wasn’t clear when they began, or what the strange background was when they were not playing. Some were used repeatedly, and but weren’t present at other times they would have been useful to help move the plot.
The two moments of catharsis are much needed (especially because I couldn’t slug some mead), seem to come too little too late. Comic relief is provided by two vagrants (Christian Harris and Nate Couser) fighting over a park bench and twenty-dollar bill. There is also some interpretative dance that, while beautifully executed by Mari Andrea, seems a bit out of place.
The commentary that monopolized our post-show conversation is one of fear. Why, really, are these African-American cops seen as traitors and enemies for becoming police? Are they brave or just foolish? Our society feeds off negative images and hot-button issues (a predator disguised as trans might touch your child in the bathroom!1!@) that drive media coverage, enforce false barriers, and instill fear of “the other”. What force on earth could change all that?
THE BOTTOM LINE: Cohesion takes Force Continuum balls to the wall, and is tackling contemporary issues that are timely and relevant. And for that, they deserve a shit ton of Mama Norris cookies (addicting, by the way). All in all, Continuum is great, powerful show, if hard to watch at times for its intensity and evocative emotion. Go see it, though. And talk about it afterwards, with the director, Cohesion staff, or people sitting next to you. But damn it, consider bringing a flask.
Running at United Evangelical Church until May 8th.
Email Pandora Locks at firstname.lastname@example.org
Like The Bad Oracle on Facebook
Follow The Bad Oracle on Twitter (@thebadoracle)