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Curve of Departure
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times

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Playwright: Rachel Bonds

At: Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie.Tickets: 847-673-6300;; $30-$88. Runs through: Oct. 21

This new play, in its regional premiere, puts a lot on the table—probably too much for an 80-minute work—but author Rachel Bonds manipulates it with such warmth, humor and humanity that you don't notice. Perhaps wisely, she doesn't attempt to fully-resolve the issues of family, relationship and choice she raises, but she reveals her four characters to us with skillful directness with which we can empathize.

Rudy, an old man with Alzheimer's, has come from New York to Santa Fe to bury his long-estranged son. He's accompanied by his former daughter-in-law, Linda, now his companion and caregiver. They are joined by grandson/son, Felix, and his affable, tattooed boyfriend, Jackson, who live in Bakersfield, CA. The boys are negotiating Jackson's wish to adopt his neglected and abused two-year old niece, and it threatens their relationship. As the child of a broken marriage himself, Felix creates barriers—legal difficulties, cost, gay parenting within the implied conservatism of Bakersfield—to hide his deeper insecurities. Rudy, preparing to end his own life in a few months over Linda's objections, smooths troubled waters with words of wisdom as the sun rises over the desert on the morning of the funeral.

The roles are evenly distributed among the four characters in this small-scale true ensemble piece, and the Northlight production benefits from four richly heart-felt performances under the astute but relaxed direction of BJ Jones. Playing Rudy, master actor Mike Nussbaum is first among equals, as always. Approaching his 95th birthday, Nussbaum is a force-of-nature who retains all his chops, instincts and remarkable physical vitality. The characters he now plays permit Nussbaum to indulge in some audience-delighting old geezer shtick—sometimes puckish, sometimes cranky—but he knows when to pull it back and give focus to others, both hallmarks of a consummate pro.

His younger companions also are impressive. Penelope Walker ( Linda ), Sean Parris ( Felix ) and Danny Martinez ( Jackson ) create truthful, caring but unsure human beings ( as we all are or should be ). At the end, they cotton to Rudy's almost-elegiac advice to embrace compassion and the future, whatever it may be, even though it requires a leap of faith. We mustn't use the failures of our fathers and grandfathers to create our own limitations, he tells us, and his words resonate with Felix and, particularly, Linda who has the greatest amount to lose in the future.

Walker and Parris are African-American actors, although the script makes no reference to race or biracial relationships. Does the script specify the casting, or is it a choice made for this production? You can't tell, and that's as it should be because it shouldn't matter.

Curve of Departure is played on Lauren Nigri's handsome, roomy hotel room set, redolent of Santa Fe adobe.

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