Monday, September 24, 2018

With Simple Structure and the Remarkable Mike Nussbaum, 'Curve of Departure' Moves in Interesting Directions -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Curve of Departure
by Rachel Bonds
directed by BJ Jones
Northlight Theatre, Skokie, IL
Thru October 21

In Rachel Bonds' Curve of Departure, the seemingly central character is an elderly man named Rudy, who--as played at Northlight by the remarkable 94-year-old Mike Nussbaum--can't help but seem "with it," cool, bemused and sardonic.

Yet within the New Mexico motel room--designed perhaps a bit too impressively by Lauren Nigri--where Rudy stays before attending his son's funeral the next day, we learn that he is disappointed by his failings as a father, losing control of both his mind and his bowels, and fairly lucidly contemplating ending his life.

That Rudy's concerns and Nussbaum himself wind up not being the most compelling aspects of a four character play lasting barely 75 minutes bespeaks Bonds' ability to niftily immerse us in a simple setup with situations that feel quite real.

Curve of Departure is well-worth your time, and if you're already planning to see it--or if I've already convinced you--you may very well wish to stop reading this review right here, at least until afterward.

For while, as always, I'll try to be circumspect about narrative details, from the play's outset I was unclear as to the exact connection of Linda (an excellent Penelope Walker) to Rudy and why she is there in his motel room.

This really isn't any kind of narrative mystery, and in just loosely describing the characters I will have to give an explanation without much guilt, but if you'd rather just approach it cold, again, STOP READING.

Whereas I thought Linda might be Rudy's wife, daughter or an unrelated caregiver, she is actually his former daughter-in-law, long divorced from his son Cyrus--who they are to bury--yet has seemingly remained quite close to Rudy over the years.

Linda is also the mother of Rudy's grandson, Felix (Sean Parris), who arrives at the motel with his boyfriend, Jackson (Danny Martinez). Both actors do strong work.

Due to financial realities, the four all spend the night in the same room, which doesn't seem quite as cramped as it probably should. I'll let you discover the sleeping arrangements.

There is also an intriguing twist concerning Felix and Jackson that I won't detail, but some of the conversations--and understandable complexities--surrounding it are what truly make Curve of Departure most beguiling.

To be honest, there are reasons I thought the play--while certainly of considerable quality either way--might merit @@@@ rather than @@@@1/2 on my 5@ scale.

Bonds' script is rather light regarding Rudy's relationship with and grief over his son, and Linda's likewise with her ex-husband (both the same, never seen Cyrus).

And while several of the realistic-feeling complexities are quite intriguing, in a few cases it seemed like Bonds--and/or the director here, BJ Jones--might have even more powerfully put the pedal to the metal.

I don't have a problem with the play's brevity on principle, but another 15 minutes could have been well used.

Yet while Curve of Departure might conceivably be even better, as it stands, I really enjoyed it.

Nussbaum is always a delight, a force and freak of nature.

Normally he would be the emphasis of a review, as in Relativity and Freud's Last Session.

That even in being his incredible self, there are even greater reasons to recommend this slice-of-life--abundant with challenging complications but also considerable love--well, that really is quite a Curve.

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