We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Success! You're on the list.

In 1991, Eliezer and Maria Marrero were arrested for imprisoning their daughter in their Bronx apartment by chaining her to a radiator. Public outrage turned to sympathy when it was learned that the Marreros were trying to keep the 15-year-old from pursuing her crack habit. This bizarre case was the inspiration for Pearl Cleage’s Chain, currently being staged by the African Continuum Theatre Company. An hour and change of monologue, the play stars Kamilah Forbes as Rosa Jenkins. On the day her family moved from Alabama to Harlem, the 11-year-old Rosa was terrified by a stoned man who screamed at her for staring at him as he weaved and lurched down the sidewalk. Five years later, the crack-addicted teen has been chained to the radiator by her exasperated father. She rattles around the living room, going through withdrawal, screaming for the neighbors to rescue her, alternating between howling with the need to get high and sincerely resolving not to be a junkie anymore. Thanks to Forbes’ riveting performance, you root for Rosa to stay clean, even as you dread the pending removal of the chain. Forbes also brings the unseen characters of Rosa’s parents to life. They’re country people who work hard, and Rosa never suggests that they’re bad parents or don’t love her. But she can’t make them understand that all she cares about is crack. She doesn’t glamorize or trivialize her habit, and she knows that crackheads become terrible people. But she notes: “What they don’t tell you is that getting high feels good!” Forbes plays Rosa as a two-minute egg—a tough, foul-mouthed shell on the outside; a soft, desperate little girl on the inside. She’ll ferociously charge at the audience and fall on her face when the chain stops her one moment, childishly dot an i with a heart (in a note asking her boyfriend to “Bring dope”) the next. Director KenYatta Rogers uses images projected on a white curtain to amplify events Rosa describes from her past and to expand the play beyond the boundaries of the prison/living-room set. You see, for example, the note being written as Rosa hunkers over a notebook. Kim Deane’s set design subtly reminds that whatever she’s gotten into, Rosa is still just a kid: There’s a Barbie doll in the house, along with a Girl Scout comforter. As for the chain, although it’s heavy and noisy, the padding around the ankle reminds you that Rosa’s father is trying to protect, not punish her. Production elements aside, the success of the show rests on Forbes’ gifted shoulders. As a crackhead absent crack, Rosa isn’t, for the most part, likable, and you’ll cringe at the words coming out of her teenage mouth; but Forbes flashes the wounded child just enough to keep you hoping. The Marrero case caused a political furor, but Cleage pares the drama down to its barest dilemma: How far can a parent go to thwart a child’s will, when her will is to self-destruct? —Janet Hopf