Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 20, 2019

Review: Chester Theater Company, Curve of Departure

Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
through August 18, 2019
by Stacie Beland and Hilde Axelson

Curve of Departure, by Rachel Bonds, is an extraordinary play that is beautifully brought to life under Keira Naughton and through its performers, who portray a snapshot of a family. The set, lighting, and sound design allow us to truly feel as though we are inside a small New Mexico hotel room. Tiny details—such as flashes of blue as a family member watches TV and the many bottles of medications, visible but not prominently displayed, tucked near the bathroom sink—allow us to become fully engrossed in what unfolds before us.

Fascinatingly, there is no antagonist in the script, though it is not without conflict. It is a simple study, a slice of American life and daily struggle. We first meet Rudy and Linda as Linda is ironing Rudy’s funeral clothes in the room. Rudy’s son, Linda’s ex-husband, has passed. Linda, despite the divorce, has remained a dedicated caretaker and companion to her ex-father-in-law. They are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Felix, Linda’s son and Rudy’s grandson. Felix is expected to arrive with his boyfriend, Jackson. As we wait for the boys to arrive, it becomes clear that Rudy is struggling with some unnamed form of dementia; he is struggling with memory loss and is burdened by a body that is turning against him. Linda remains upbeat and unflappable. When the boys arrive, it is revealed that they are caring for and potentially adopting Jackson’s niece, something for which Felix feels unprepared.

Ami Brabson’s is a wonder as Linda. She is a woman on the edge, but is never hesitant to speak her mind and offer advice. Whether cheerfully escorting Rudy to the bathroom, cleaning him, or counseling both Felix and Jackson, all among the undercurrent of her ex-husband’s death and having to face his “new family,” she is the glue that holds this night (and morning) together. When she finally breaks down, it is decidedly well earned. Her portrayal is stunning.

Raye Birk, as the aging and curmudgeonly Rudy, portrays his character with perfect precision in loveable dotage. When Rudy reveals his plans for the future, we grieve with his family but also cheer for what may be his last assertion of his wishes. He is a man that has lost so much, but not so much that he’s ignorant to the loss itself. Birk is a fantastic in this role.

As Jackson and Felix, Jose Espinosa and Paul Pontrelli (respectively), are an engaging couple. Truly, Pontrelli’s Felix steals the show and somewhat overshadows Espinosa’s Jackson. Pontrelli’s intensity on the stage is unmatched; there is never a moment where he isn’t completely engaged in what is happening around him. His subtle facial expressions and barely perceptible nervous affectations combine to form a well-rounded, highly believable character.

Truly, upon seeing this performance, one cannot help but leave the theater and want to spend more time with this family, to somehow ingratiate oneself into their fictional lives—you develop such a care and concern for all of them that, upon waking the next day, you want to call them to make sure they’re okay. It is a fantastic, highly believable performance.