It’s rare to find a contemporary American drama that is neither, on one end, steeped in cynicism nor, at the other, drenched in sentiment; rare, too, to find a story about an American family that doesn’t celebrate dysfunction. The family in Rachel Bond’s beautifully and economically composed “Curve of Departure”, in New England premier at Chester Theatre Company, is as non-conforming in its make-up as it is in its problems. The simple elegance of this taut, two-scene, 75 minute drama is how the family deals with life in such normal, human terms.
It’s late night in a double bed motel room, extra cot. Rudy (Raye Birk), late 70s, Jewish, New York City born and bred, afflicted with memory loss and a body failing apart from the inside out, talks about the funeral the next morning of his estranged son, Cyrus with Linda (Ami Babson), Cy’s ex-wife. Linda, since her divorce, has become more daughter than former daughter-in-law, taking care of the curmudgeon in his failing health. They await the arrival of Linda’s only child (and Rudy’s grandson), Felix (Paul Pontrelli), and his boyfriend, Jackson (Jose Espinosa). Felix is a good son with a good job, providing for both himself and Jackson. Linda hopes they will settle down for good, but Jackson’s family life is complicated and presents a special challenge to their future relationship.
Plot details would be spoilers; what “Curve of Departure” is really about is how we negotiate both fear and hope for the future. Rudy has seen it all and done it all; he’s accepted his fate. Linda grieves for Cy even though he was a shit. Her present is defined by her devotion to her father-in-law; her future hopes are pinned on Felix’s happiness. Felix, who resents any notion of being “just like his father”, is confused about prospects for any long-term relationship, even with Jackson, and threatened by the notion of parenthood.
Casting is spot-on. The ensemble acting is superb. The fixed set - a standard, tired but tidy, 1980s Anywhere USA chain-motel room - by Juliana von Haubrich is perfect. Director Kiera Naughton moves the four about in the room, well, just like four people sharing a motel room. Special kudos to lighting designer Matthew Adelson. In a lovely scene, he stunningly transforms the dead-of -night, dark motel room splashed with cold, bathroom light into a morning scene soaked in the warm glow of daybreak. Director Naughton wisely lets its play slowly; its wonderful theatrical moment all in itself.
For those not familiar with Chester Theatre, its plays are produced on the small stage in a small town hall (in one of the smallest towns in New England); the quality of production is in astonishing inverse proportion to budget. “Curve of Departure” concludes with a brief morning scene on the motel room balcony. In the wake of a new day, Rudy sees the most clearly, touching hearts and heads of members of his own kind of American family. When a play touches, too, the audience the same, you know it's theatre for real, regardless of scale.
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