Northlight's 'Curve of Departure' shows a family facing difficult changes

  • Rudy (Mike Nussbaum) reminiscences about a past trip to New York with his grandson, Felix (Sean Parris), in "Curve of Departure" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

    Rudy (Mike Nussbaum) reminiscences about a past trip to New York with his grandson, Felix (Sean Parris), in "Curve of Departure" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow/Northlight Theatre

  • Linda (Penelope Walker) and Rudy (Mike Nussbaum) make a toast with minibar liquor as Felix (Sean Parris) looks on in Northlight's "Curve of Departure."

    Linda (Penelope Walker) and Rudy (Mike Nussbaum) make a toast with minibar liquor as Felix (Sean Parris) looks on in Northlight's "Curve of Departure." Courtesy of Michael Brosilow/Northlight Theatre

 
 
Updated 9/27/2018 8:34 AM

"Curve of Departure" -- ★ ★

Mike Nussbaum once again shows off his amazing stage chops in Northlight Theatre's regional premiere of "Curve of Departure."

 

The chance to cast the 94-year-old actor may even have prompted the Skokie theater to program Rachel Bonds' play. Yet, despite Northlight's fine cast, her 2017 drama comes off as too slight.

Running at just 70 minutes with no intermission, "Curve of Departure" is mostly setup. The play feels more like the pilot episode of a TV series rather than a satisfying and self-contained work.

Mike Nussbaum, left, Penelope Walker, Danny Martinez and Sean Parris star in Rachel Bonds' "Curve of Departure" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.
Mike Nussbaum, left, Penelope Walker, Danny Martinez and Sean Parris star in Rachel Bonds' "Curve of Departure" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. - Courtesy of Michael Brosilow/Northlight Theatre

Nussbaum, however, shines as Rudy, a genial grandfather from the New York Tri-State area who gets increasingly agitated facing down his failing faculties.

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He has reunited with other members of his extended family in a New Mexico hotel for what everyone expects to be an awkward funeral. The deceased is Rudy's son Cyrus, who ran out on his first wife, Linda (Penelope Walker), and his son, Felix (Sean Parris), to start a new family.

Felix, now grown, is at a crossroads in his relationship with Jackson (Danny Martinez), who has taken custody of his niece as a result of his sister's negligence and drug problems. Felix is supportive, but unsure whether he wants to become a parent.

In the play, Bonds goes out of her way to show how interracial and gay relationships are accepted norms and non-issues for this family. Yet it might have been nice for the characters to reflect on how they overcame any past prejudices to become so tightly supportive of each other.

Danny Martinez, left, Mike Nussbaum and Penelope Walker star in "Curve of Departure" at Skokie's Northlight Theatre.
Danny Martinez, left, Mike Nussbaum and Penelope Walker star in "Curve of Departure" at Skokie's Northlight Theatre. - Courtesy of Michael Brosilow/Northlight Theatre
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

More back story for what compelled ex-daughter-in-law Linda to become Rudy's primary caretaker also would have been welcome. And since the characters talk so much about their conflicted feelings over attending Cyrus' funeral, audiences might feel cheated not seeing its aftermath.

Despite deficiencies in the script, director B.J. Jones and his strong cast make for a fine ensemble. There's also solid design work with Lauren Nigri's Southwestern hotel room set and Heather Gilbert's lighting design that suggests a New Mexico sunrise near the play's end.

"Curve of Departure" makes no bones about showing an inclusive American family dealing with life's curveballs, but the play calls out for more drama, more context and more content.

• • •

Location: Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, (847) 673-6300 or northlight.org

Showtimes: 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday (also 7 p.m. Sept. 30); through Oct. 21

Tickets: $30-$88

Running time: About 70 minutes with no intermission

Parking: Free adjacent lot and garage

Rating: Features mature subject matter; for teens and older

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