Continuity By Discontinuation

A character’s absence in a play can say more than if they strutted and talked across the boards for its entire duration. 

We’ve already covered the reverse phenomenon — when an unlikely character appears out of nowhere — but Harrison David Rivers’ we are continuous at the Williamstown Theatre Festival strikes the opposite effect, a dramatis personae decision-by-subtraction that speaks to the means by which a family can turn the title’s sentiment into an applicable description of their desired familial unity.

The character in we are continuous to whom I’m referring is obviously the father. He’s mentioned throughout, and when a third character shows up to upend the established dual-monologue structure between son and mother, this reversal of our expectations as to the play’s parameters leaves the door open for the father’s not-to-be late entrance. When the final scene arrives, one that directly involves him conversing with the others, the play’s refusal to embody him on stage promptly closes that door in a case of dramaturgy reflecting theme.

The bifurcated set design between the son’s apartment and the mother’s house represents their disconnect, one the father plays a major role in upholding. The visible gap between their respective digs seemingly promises to be physically and emotionally bridged by play’s end through some sort of reconciliation.

The set’s ultimate movement captures the process by which this reconciliation can be fulfilled: not by a conjoining, but through a ripping. The two halves of the set are never brought together to be made continuous, because their reconciliation occurs not through touching, but through a separation. And who falls through the created crack to achieve this unity?

The father. 

Sometimes, to come together, we must excise the human barrier dividing us, creating an opening over the rift that makes space for previously tattered relationships to thrive. The play’s climax sees the mother finally opposing her bigoted husband’s commands, the triumphant conclusion to her arc, overcoming his blockade between mother and son.

She rejects not only his wishes, but also his patriarchally-dictated terms that have longed governed and defined their home. She literally leaves it all behind, ushering in the the group hug that ends the play. Not only does papa not deserve to be in the hug, he also doesn’t deserve to metaphorically feel the play’s eventual acceptance. He was the obstacle hindering this possibility, and his presence in the play would further inhibit it (until he’s ready/forced to change). Simply put, it’s a privilege he hasn’t earned (nor does he want to, in light of the given conditions).

As such, he’s where he belongs: nowhere on this loving stage, a man to be shunned in pursuit of our happy ending. And enjoying the titular we’s continuity required a discontinuation of his reach.

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