Rachel Bonds’ 2017 play, Curve of Departure, is a gem; and, under Thaddaeus Edwards’ direction, Bulldog Ensemble Theater shines this jewel to a rich luster, and offers it for public display in the performance space of The Fruit (Durham Fruit & Produce Co.) at 305 S Dillard St.
Four ordinary people share a room in a motel near an airport in Arizona. Ranging in age from mid-twenties to eighty-something, one is a black woman; one is an elderly, white Jewish man; one is biracial; and one is Latino; two are gay, and two are straight. These four are family, and they have come together in the wake of the death of an estranged family member. The deceased had abandoned this (his original) family years ago, and they have now been invited (by the new family) to attend the funeral and a reception. The possibilities for awkwardness and discomfort in such a situation abound, but as we hear one character say, “Sometimes when people die, you do some weird things.”
One member of this group refers to himself and his fellows as a “strange ragtag little group of humans wandering the Earth together.” The audience is flies-on-the-wall the night before the funeral, and we join this group again at sunrise on the day of the funeral. We learn about the issues with which they are currently struggling, including such high-stakes subjects as preventing child-abuse, fostering and adoption by same-sex couples, caring for the aging, and dying with dignity.
Rachel Bonds has given these characters smooth, natural dialogue; and the cast delivers with fluid ease. Under Edwards’ direction, the pacing is smooth, even, and unhurried. Truth-be-told, time actually flew by, causing me to doubt that the full 80 minutes had, indeed, passed before the end of the final scene.
Part of the appeal of Bonds’ play is in the way in which these people discuss and debate their life-and-death topics, while pursuing such day-to-day activities as watching TV, ironing, and setting up a roll-away bed. Despite differences of opinion and perspective, they practically exude love and respect for each other. At the end, I felt that I had been so totally invited into these people’s hearts and minds that it seemed as though I had been on a spiritual journey with each of them.
John Murphy, s Rudy, portrays a loveable, yet crotchety old man who suffers from memory loss and incontinence. As Linda, Phyllis S. Morrison invests her character with love and devotion for Rudy. There is a strong chemistry between the two.
The characters of Felix and Jackson are not as extensively written, but Marcus P. Zollicoffer and Luar J. Mercado Lopez, respectively, play them well. They show two men who are obviously in love and who, just as obviously, share apprehensions as well as dreams.
The set, designed by Michelle Gonzalez-Green and built by Jonathan Varillas, is an accurate (as true-to-life as you could ask for) representation of a modern-day motel room, complete with the claustrophobic feeling inherent when more than two people try to navigate around the two king-sized beds (and around each other).
Lakeisha Coffey’s costume designs have clothed the characters appropriately, even down to the question of “What would they wear to bed?” Sound designer Christa Giammattei is on point with, among others, ambient sounds consistent with being near an airport, constantly reminding me of the theme of “departure,” suggested by the play’s name. And lighting designer Steve Tell has effectively created an interior and an exterior for the motel.
The Department of Picky-Picky has demanded that I mention a few things:
- I readily confess an inability to identify (or attach meaning to) a wall-hanging that seems to dominate the room, upstage center.
- As realistic as the sound effects are, I was wondering if the speaker(s) could be placed behind the set rather than stage left of the set. When a cell phone (that was clearly located stage-right) rang, my ears insisted that my eyes search for it stage-left.
- While the characters were watching TV, I was distracted by the impression that Linda and Rudy could not seem to agree on exactly where the TV screen was located.
A Major Strength:
Playwright Rachel Bonds has chosen to locate the early “these-are-the-problems” scene in the closed-in interior of the motel room, and she gives us the “here’s-to-the-future” scene outside in the gathering light of the dawning-of-a-brand-new-day. And it is no accident, I think, that she has set the play in Arizona, where the vast expanses of the sunrise can hint at the unlimited possibilities of the future.
A Final Word:
This is Bulldog Ensemble Theater’s first-ever production. The Durham-based company three more pieces planned in this, their inaugural season. Having sampled their wares, we welcome them with open arms.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 26th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/curve-of-departure/Event?oid=18151281 and July 18th preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/culture/art/manbites-dog-theater-vets-regroup-bulldog-ensemble-theater-carry-company-s-legacy.-first-find-play./.
Bulldog Ensemble Theater presents CURVE OF DEPARTURE at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4, 8 p.m. Oct. 5, 2 p.m. Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11, 8 p.m. Oct. 12 and 13, and 2 p.m. Oct. 14 at The Fruit (Durham Fruit and Produce Co.), 305 S. Dillard St., Durham North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $15 weeknights and $20 weekends (seniors and veterans: $13 weeknights and $18 weekends), except $10 for people under 35.
BOX OFFICE: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=bet.
SHOW: https://www.bulldogdurham.org/curve-of-departure and https://www.facebook.com/events/2037321229652915/.
2018-19 SEASON: https://www.bulldogdurham.org/shows-and-events.
PRESENTER: https://www.bulldogdurham.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/BulldogEnsembleTheater/.
VENUE: http://www.durhamfruit.com/, https://www.facebook.com/305sdillardst/, https://twitter.com/durhamfruit, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPMaKqpy0ZLWi_yXODprZGQ. BLOG: http://www.durhamfruit.com/blog.
NOTE: Bulldog Ensemble Theater cautions that this play “Contains adult language and themes.”
Curve of Departure (2017 South Coast Rep dark comedy): https://newplayexchange.org/plays/66958/curve-departure (New Play Exchange).
Rachel Bonds (playwright): https://newplayexchange.org/users/2900/rachel-bonds (New Play Exchange bio), https://www.playscripts.com/playwrights/bios/1587 (Playscripts bio), and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/48426 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Thaddaeus Allen Edwards (director): https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1029220/ (Internet Movie Database) and https://www.facebook.com/thegdthadman (Facebook page).
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.