‘Curve of Departure’ raises interesting family issues

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From left, Rudy (Mike Nussbaum),Linda (Penelope Walker), Jackson (Danny Martinez) and Felix (Sean Parris in 'Curve of Departure' at Northlight Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From left, Rudy (Mike Nussbaum),Linda (Penelope Walker), Jackson (Danny Martinez) and Felix (Sean Parris in ‘Curve of Departure’ at Northlight Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

In Rachel Bonds’ “Curve of Departure,” now at Northlight Theatre, you see four characters who face different issues they sort of resolve by the end of the 75-minute play.

The characters, Rudy (Mike Nussbaum), ex-daughter-in-law Linda (Penelope Walker), her son, Felix called Fe, (Sean Parris) and Fe’s boyfriend, Jackson ,(Danny Martinez) have come together for the funeral of Rudy’s son, and Linda’s former husband, Cyrus, who is only a presence by their discussion of how awful he was.

Rudy’s grandson and his friend share a New Mexico motel room with Rudy and Linda to save money.

It is easy to get caught up in their troubles without realizing the big picture.

Rudy portrayed with Nussbaum’s usual brilliance, has a body and mind that are betraying him as he slips into Alzheimer’s Disease. In his lucid moments he says he plans to end his life on the Ides of March because he should have control over his destiny.

Walker is perfect as Linda who is willing to give up her teaching position to become Rudy’s caregiver and Martinez is excellent as Jackson who cares for Fe but believes he has to resolve his sister’s problems of drug addiction and abusive boyfriend by adopting her two-year-old daughter. Otherwise the child will go into foster care.

Fe who didn’t really want to come to his father’s funeral because he intensely disliked him, is also not comfortable with Jackson’s plan to adopt his niece. There is a lot going on with this role but Parris seems to have attacked it somewhat woodenly or as if he is unsure of the best way to portray his character’s conflicts.

After watching the characters’ struggles, the question of how they fit the play’s title choice arose in my mind. The answer lies in its origin in “First Thanksgiving,” a poem by Sharon Olds from her Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002.

After talking about a parent’s delight in having an offspring return home, if only briefly, the poem ends with a recollection of watching captured bees’ “curve of departure” as they are set free.

A clue to the play’s message does come during Rudy’s exceptional tribute to a sun that rises no matter what each person does or doesn’t do on earth and in his references to how tiny we all are during the characters’ toast with tiny, airplane-sized liquor bottles.

Fe is going to have to let go of his issues with his father and allow Jackson to adopt the niece. But just as important, Linda finally realizes she will have to allow Rudy to end his life the way he desires.

Directed by BJ Jones, the play seems to progress somewhat slowly in the first scene in the motel room, but picks up momentum  and clarity in the second scene on the room’s patio. However, the issues Bonds presents and her message are relevant and worth exploring.

DETAILS: ” Curve of Departure” is at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie.  Running time: 75 minutes. For tickets and other information call (847) 673-6300 and visit Northlight.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

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