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REVIEW: ‘Curve of Departure’ at Chester Theatre composes family relations with simple elegance

Plot details would be spoilers; what “Curve of Departure” is really about is how we negotiate the future unknown.

Curve of Departure
By Rachel Bonds
Directed by Keira Naughton

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 Bonds’ beautifully and economically composed “Curve of Departure,” in New England premier at Chester Theatre Company, is as nonconforming 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.

Raye Birk and Ami Brabson in the Chester Theatre Company production of ‘Curve of Departure.’ Photo: Andrew Greto

It’s late night in a double-bed motel room (with extra cot). Rudy (Raye Birk), late 70s, Jewish, New York City-born and -bred, afflicted with memory loss and a body falling apart from the inside out talks about the funeral the next morning of his estranged son, Cyrus, with Linda (Ami Brabson), 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 the future unknown. Rudy has seen it all and done it all; he’s accepted his life. 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.

Ami Brabson, Raye Birk, Paul Pontrelli and José Espinosa in the Chester Theatre Company production of ‘Curve of Departure.’ Photo: Andrew Greto

The 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 it play slowly; its a wonderful theatrical moment all in itself.

For those not familiar with Chester Theatre Company, 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 theater for real, regardless of scale.

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Curve of Departure plays at the Chester Theatre, Chester Town Hall, 15 Middlefield Road, Chester, Massachusetts, through Sunday, Aug. 18. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, call the box office at (413) 354-7770 or go to chestertheatre.org.

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