Zimbabwe Actress Snares One

"In the Continuum" played an Off-Broadway season in early 2006, winning the Outer Circle Critics Award for Best New American Play, and Obie awards


Zimbabwean actress, Danai Gurira, won the prestigious Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress for her stunning role in the award winning play “In the Continuum” raising the profile of African actresses on the international scene.

She received her award at a ceremony that was hosted by the Washington Theater Awards Society. The play was named the Outstanding Non Resident Production at the awards.

“It is an honor to receive the award and rather unexpected. What makes me most proud is that I present Zimbabwe in this play. I celebrate my culture and people and to have an American audience receive it so well makes me feel that I am on the right track,” says Danai.

Her win in many ways is a sign of the American public’s confidence in Africa’s artistic experessions. Danai said that the award is an indication that “western audiences can appreciate authentic African stories.”

“We as Africans just have to dare to completely and unapologetically be ourselves,” she says.

“In the Continuum” is Danai and co-author and actress Nikkole Salter’s first theatrical production and premiered at Primary Stages in New York before transferring to the Perry Street Theater.

It played an Off-Broadway season in early 2006, winning the Outer Circle Critics Award for Best New American Play, and Obie awards for its two actors and director Robert O’Hara. The play is about to finish its US tour in Chicago next month after being presented in several U.S cities and four countries.

The play also featured at the 2006 edition of the Harare International Festival of the Arts where the Danai and Nikkole also facilitated workshops for young artists in Harare and Chitungwiza.

“We do have one last hope – and that is to bring it home (Zimbabwe) one more time and present it for longer than the two performances HIFA afforded us last year,” says Danai.

The play tells parallel stories of two women, Abigail Murambe (Danai) a Zimbabwean journalist, and Nia James (Nikkole), a teenager who has been living in Los Angeles shelters and foster homes since she was kicked out of her mother’s house.

Though they never meet, and they never enter each other’s worlds, their stories are similar.  Both Nia and Abigail find out they are pregnant. The two women also discover that they have contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

They must face their respective partners with this news, but both know that contracting HIV/AIDS, especially for women, can mean being ostracized by family, friends and community, and enduring emotional as well as physical hardships.

Nia and Abigail embark on separate but parallel journeys, visiting friends, enemies, traditional doctors, and other people in their lives, in search of a miracle, or at least some assurance they will be treated with due respect.

At the end of the play each stands in front of her loved ones. She must decide whether to speak the truth about her diagnosis or to hide it—as so many women do—for her own protection. Danai got her award April 17th.

Tsiko is The Black Star News’s Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare.

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