Reviewed by David Sheward
Presented by and at the Atlantic Theatre Company, 336 W. 20 St., Feb. 8-25 (with a possible extension).
"Force Continuum" is the scale of action police use when encountering a suspect. The first and most preferable stage in the continuum is talking; the one of last resort is the deadly use of a weapon. Kia Corthron's scathing new play, presented at the Atlantic Theatre Company, examines the phenomenon of officers skipping from stage one all the way to the end and the fact that most of those on the receiving end of such violence are young African-American men. She throws a spin on this mix by making the main character young and African-American—and the latest in a three-generation family of cops.
There is much to admire in Corthron's work; many of her scenes are powerfully written with realistic-sounding, choppy dialogue, and telling detail. Still, she casts too wide a net. There are too many characters and storylines, often confusing in their interrelationships. One plot thread seems as important as the central one in the first act and then is promptly dropped in Act Two. By introducing so much divergent material, she weakens the main theme.
Director Michael John Garcés manages to keep a tight rein on the free-flowing script and the large cast features many sterling performers. Chad L. Coleman is a solid lead as the officer battling the disapproval of his community and the covert racism of his department. Ray Anthony Thomas plays two roles on opposite sides of the law with impressive conviction. As a black policeman pushed to the limit, he makes you feel his rage in a searing monologue; moments later, he becomes a drug dealer who is much more than a street stereotype. There is also strong work from Myra Lucretia Taylor, Jordan Lage, and Caroline S. Clay.
Kirk Bookman's eloquent lighting creates the numerous locations suggested by Alexander Dodge's unit set.