In a cramped motel room in New Mexico, a “ragtag little group of humans” gathers in anticipation of the funeral of a man they loved but did not like. But the dearly departed is not their only concern, as they grapple with the demands of ordinary life and the decisions of an uncertain future. Northlight favorite Mike Nussbaum returns as the patriarch of an unconventional family in this delicate and gently comic drama.
Photos by Michael Brosilow
by Chris Jones
September 21, 2018
In ‘Curve of Departure’ at Northlight Theatre, a family must work things out in a hotel room
One fundamental problem faced by America’s oldest Equity actor — that would be the 94-year-old Mike Nussbaum — is that directors keep casting him in age-appropriate roles. Such is his vitality, he can be hard to believe in them.
In the case of Rachel Bonds’ “Curve of Departure,” a beautifully written little play in need of a more expansive narrative and structural ambition, Nussbaum plays Rudy, an elderly and depressed New Yorker who has developed a late-in-life taste for tabloid TV, and who worries both about his own declining mental health and his ability to exit on his own terms from what has become a pretty miserable life.
In this 75-minute family drama, Nussbaum’s Rudy finds himself in a New Mexico hotel room, on the eve of the funeral of a son he did not much like, and who he is convinced he failed. He’s sharing a room with his daughter-in-law Linda (Penelope Walker), his grandson Felix (Sean Parris) and Felix’s partner Jackson (Danny Martinez). Aside from everyone dealing with their feelings for and about the recently deceased, “Curve of Departure” also is about how our families are often collections of diverse and disparate folks, all of whom are trying their best to overcome challenges that their own loved ones struggle to understand.
All that said, your brief and uneven stay at Northlight ends with a truly exquisite scene between Nussbaum’s Rudy and Walker’s Linda. It’s one of those interchanges you’ll know from your own life, where people come to terms with life’s imperfections and take solace in love, a sense of humor and our ongoing presence above the ground rather than buried therein. Nussbaum finally gets to explode Rudy with the spirit of life, the fundamental need to crush all depressive feelings, the vital importance of living positively in the moment, however old you may be.
All around me, people started making noises of recognition. That means a lot more than applause.
CHICAGO ON THE AISLE
by Hedy Weiss
September 23, 2018
‘Curve of Departure’ at Northlight Theatre: Nussbaum at 94, etching old age with mastery
Actor Mike Nussbaum will turn 95 in December (no, that is not a typo), and he is now delivering such a towering performance in the Northlight Theatre production of Rachel Bonds’ play, “Curve of Departure,” that you might easily be persuaded he is simply a supremely talented actor impersonating an old man.
Watch him as he nails every comic line, every emotional outburst, every slide into panic and disorientation, every heartbreaking confessional speech, every fleet exit from bed to bathroom as a bout of incontinence strikes, and you will see a master class in acting. Take note of how he projects his voice, and makes every word completely audible in the most natural way (something many actors fail to do.) Or simply watch the way in which he so convincingly sleeps, although of course he is alert to every cue.
Under the tightly orchestrated direction of BJ Jones, and with a design team that includes Lauren Negri (sets), Alexis Cheney (costumes), Heather Gilbert (lights) and Andre Pluess (whose brief musical interludes strike just the right chord), the play’s clunkier elements are mostly finessed.
And Nussbaum’s memorably delivered “valedictory” message about love (and love and love), and about the necessity of making bold choices and big sacrifices in its name, is reason enough to see this play
CHICAGO SUN TIMES
by Steven Oxman
September 24, 2018
‘Curve of Departure’ the ideal showcase for Mike Nussbaum’s gifts
Add Rachel Bonds to the growing list of American playwrights well worth scanning play listings for, so that you can catch whatever she writes.
Bonds hit my radar for the first time earlier this year, when Shattered Globe Theatre presented her beautiful play “Five Mile Lake,” about young people’s complex relationship with staying or leaving or returning to their own home towns.
Now Northlight Theatre is staging her work “Curve of Departure,” which may not be quite as dramatically compelling as “Five Mile Lake,” but certainly has its own treasurable qualities, including a quiet lyricism and an ideal role for 94-year-old actor Mike Nussbaum.
Nussbaum is just perfect for this role, and perfect in it. Most remarkable is that each time Rudy awakens from temporary slumber, you can somehow tell before he evens speaks whether his cognition is clear or cloudy. As the oldest working stage actor in America, Nussbaum’s presence is inspiring, but his presence combined with the quality of his acting artistry — always simultaneously straightforward but specific — is positively life-affirming.
CHICAGO THEATRE REVIEWS
by Collin Douglas
September 22, 2018
What We Do for Family
When the lights rise on Lauren Nigri’s detailed, ultra-realistic Santa Fe motel room setting, we discover Linda ironing a man’s suit, while an elderly gentleman named Rudy is commandeering the remote as he watches a sensational reality TV program. The irony of this moment is that, by the end of Rachel Bonds’ poignant one-act family drama, the tabloid journalism that Rudy seems to enjoy so much can’t even begin to compare with the real-life drama that exists within his own family. Directed with sensitivity and a smooth, naturalistic pacing, Artistic Director BJ Jones has brought this heartfelt story to Chicago audiences in an affecting, memorable production. This beautiful play marks a stunning beginning to Northlight Theatre’s 2018-19.
Rachel Bonds’ 2016 slice-of-life drama features a quartet of authentic, recognizable characters. She’s given these folks a series of believable conflicts to face head-on, communicated through an evening of candid dialogue and debate. Nothing about this play feels false, and Jones’ production honors this truthfulness with his production.
Rachel Bonds’ candidly written, unsentimental one-act rewards audiences with a story with which everyone can relate. BJ Jones’ has crafted a production that will ring true with every theatergoer. In a small motel room, Bonds has given us a microcosm of what we wish this country could be: a diverse group of people of varying ages, who all love and respect each other, despite their problems and differences. It’s a play about caring, and it’s about what we do for family.
Danny makes his Northlight debut. As a company member of Jackalope Theatre he has appeared in Exit Strategy, Four, and Long Way Go Down. As an American Players Theatre apprentice he has appeared in Cyrano de Bergerac and Comedy of Errors. TV credits include Chicago PD and South Side. Danny is a Chicago Native with a BA from Columbia College Chicago. He is represented by Stewart Talent.
Mike returns to Northlight where he previously appeared in Relativity, Awake and Sing!, Better Late, Grace, and Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. Curve of Departure marks his 16th appearance with Northlight. As an actor in Chicago for more than 60 years, he was recently seen at TimeLine in Bakersfield Mist and The Price and at the Goodman in the much loved Smokefall by Noah Haidle. According to Actors’ Equity Association, he is the oldest actor still working on stage.
Sean returns to Northlight where he was previously seen in Curve of Departure and The Whipping Man. Other Chicago credits include a two man show entitled Space Age with real life intimate partner Ricardo Gamboa (Free Street Theatre); Blues for an Alabama Sky (Court); The Magic Play (Goodman, Portland Center Stage at the Armory, Syracuse Stage); Compass, Animal Farm, The Drunken City (Steppenwolf); and A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes (Pinebox Theatre). TV: Chicago PD (NBC), The Chi (Showtime), and Brujos (OpenTV’s original web series). Sean was born in L.A., raised in Miami and Georgia by his amazing mom, and currently lives in Chicago. Sean received his MFA from Depaul University’s Theatre School, is a graduate of Black Box Acting Academy and is represented by Paonessa Talent Agency.
Penelope is ecstatic to return to Northlight after previously appearing in Into the Breeches!, Curve of Departure, Eclipsed, Gee’s Bend, and Bee Luther Hatchee. Other Chicago credits include Life Sucks, Black Diamond, The Years the Locusts Have Eaten (Lookingglass); The House That Will Not Stand, No One As Nasty (Victory Gardens); A Christmas Carol, The Story, Crowns, (Goodman); Love & Information (Remy Bumppo); We’re Gonna Be Okay, The Projects, Agnes of God, Doubt, People’s Temple (American Theatre Company); Will You Stand Up (Erasing the Distance Theatre Company); Seven Homeless Mammoths Wandering New England (Theatre Wit); Love Lies Bleeding (Steppenwolf); 10 Virgins, Voyeurs de Venus (Chicago Dramatists); The Clink (Rivendell Theatre). She created and performed her own solo show How I Jack Master Funked The Sugar in My Knee Caps. Film/Web/TV: Dubious Ruffians, Olympia, Flowers, Matching Pursuit, Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, Chicago Justice, and Boss.
BJ JONES is in his 25th season as Artistic Director of Northlight. Mr. Jones is a two-time Joseph Jefferson Award Winning actor and a three-time nominated director. He’s directed the world premieres of Charm (Jeff Award Best New Play), The Outgoing Tide (Jeff Award Best New Play), White Guy on the Bus (Jeff Nominated Best New Play), Chapatti (Nominated Jeff Award Best New Play), Better Late, and Rounding Third. Notably, he has directed productions of Outside Mullingar, Grey Gardens, The Price, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane. As a producer he has guided the three world premieres of The Christmas at Pemberley Trilogy (Jeff Award Best New Play), Shining Lives, The Last Five Years, and Studs Terkel’s ‘The Good War’. Additional directorial credits include Pitmen Painters (Timeline, Jeff Award Best Production); 100 Saints You Should Know (Steppenwolf); Glengarry Glen Ross (Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, Suzi Bass nomination Best Director); The Lady with All the Answers (Cherry Lane, New York); Animal Crackers (Baltimore Center Stage); Three Musketeers, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing (Utah Shakespeare Festival), and four productions at the Galway International Arts Festival. As a performer, he has appeared at Northlight, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court, and other theatres throughout Chicago. Film/TV credits include The Fugitive, Body Double, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Early Edition, Cupid, and Turks, among others.
Rachel Bonds’ plays have been developed or produced by South Coast Rep, Ars Nova, Manhattan Theatre Club, McCarter Theatre, Roundabout Underground, Atlantic Theater Company, Studio Theatre, New Georges, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, SPACE on Ryder Farm, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and New York Stage & Film, among others. Her plays include: Curve of Departure (South Coast Rep commission, PPF 2016, Kilroys List 2016); Five Mile Lake (South Coast Rep, McCarter, Weissberger Award); The Wolfe Twins (Studio Theatre, Kilroys List 2015); Swimmers (Marin Theatre Co., Rella Lossy Award, Sky Cooper Prize, Kilroys List 2014); Sundown, Yellow Moon (Ars Nova/WP); Alma (Atlantic Theatre Company commission); Firecracker (Kilroys List 2016); At The Old Place (Arden); Michael & Edie (NY Times Critic’s Pick, 2010); Winter Games (Actors Theatre of Louisville, Heideman Award); and Anniversary (EST, Sam French OOB Festival Winner). She is an Alumna of the EST’s Youngblood, Ars Nova’s Play Group and SPACE on Ryder Farm’s Working Farm Writers’ Group. She was recently named the 2016 Tow Foundation Playwright in Residence at Ars Nova. Current commissions include The Geffen and McCarter. Bonds is a graduate of Brown University.
Production Stage Manager
Rita Vreeland has been a frequent stage manager at Northlight since 2007, with Birthday Candles marking her 42nd production here. Other favorite recent projects include Ernest Shackleton Loves Me at Porchlight Music Theatre, A Christmas Carol at Drury Lane, The Luckiest at Raven Theatre, three years of The Polar Express Train Ride, and productions at Mercury Theatre, Victory Gardens, Route 66 Theatre Company, Theatre at the Center, and The Galway International Arts Festival in Galway, Ireland. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to ten-year-old Charlie, and this year she celebrated her 22nd anniversary as a member of Actors’ Equity Association. Thank you for supporting live theatre!
Recent design credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Chicago Shakespeare); Hinter, The Few (Steep); Nice Girl, Betrayal (Raven); Souvenirs (Milwaukee Repertory Theater); The Scorpions Sting (Lyric Opera/Lyric Unlimited); Intimate Apparel (University of Illinois at Chicago); Sleeping Beauty (Marriott Theater); Adding Machine: A Musical (The Hypocrites); My American Cousin (Silk Road Rising). Recent associate design credits include The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Northlight) and Southern Gothic (Windy City Playhouse). She received her MFA from Northwestern in Stage Design and was awarded as one of ten design exhibitors chosen for the United States at the 2015 Prague Quadrennial. laurennigri.carbonmade.com
Heather returns to Northlight where she previously designed You Can’t Take It With You, Mothers and Sons and Faceless. Ms. Gilbert’s lighting designs have been seen on many Chicago stages including Hypocrites, Goodman, Court, Steppenwolf, Steep, Victory Gardens, Remy Bumppo, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Writers, Timeline, About Face and countless storefronts. Regional credits include Oregon Shakespeare, American Repertory, Kansas City Repertory, Milwaukee Repertory, Huntington, Williamstown, Alley, Berkeley Repertory and Actors Theatre of Louisville. International credits include Almeida in London and Singapore Repertory. Heather was a recipient of the NEA/TCG Career Development Grant and the 3Arts Award. Heather serves as the Head of Lighting Design at Columbia College Chicago, and received her MFA at the Theatre School at DePaul. She is a member of The Hypocrites community.
Alexis is delighted to be making her debut with Northlight Theater. Recent credits include Gloria with Hatch Arts Collective, Pato Pato Maricon at Ars Nova Ant Fest, and Richard III with Muse of Fire. She has a MFA in Costume Design from Carnegie Mellon University. She is a proud founding member of First Floor Theater in Chicago. You can find her work at alexiscarrie.com
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OPEN CAPTIONING – Curve of Departure, October 13, at 2:30pm
This performance will be open captioned. All seats do not provide a clear view of the captions. Please indicate your need for captioning when purchasing your tickets by phone 847.673.6300 to be seated in the correct area, or use the “Purchase by Seat” option when buying online (select the LEFT section and look for the symbol indicating seats for open captioning).