Some plays are built on plot. They earn and hold our attention with a series of gripping events, dramatic or comedic, that aim to instill tension and momentum as they build to a satisfying climax and resolution. To the extent that the authors of such plays want us to think about themes or ideas, they hang them on the plot, tying them to the things that happen. This kind of play is relatively easy to talk about; usually one need only summarize the story-line in order to convey a sense of what the play is and what it’s about.
But other plays push plot into the background to pay closer attention to characters and their interactions. Plays of this kind are generally much harder to talk about because, while they do tell a story, the story emerges subtly from smaller, less flashy events and from close observation of the nuances of human behavior. Rachel Bonds’ Curve of Departure (an SCR commission) is such a play, and it’s a particularly beautiful example of the form. Its emotional values sneak up on you, but when they come, they come strong because they feel completely earned and utterly truthful.
What’s useful to know about Bonds’ story is that it features four characters—three of them related by blood or marriage—who have come together in a hotel room in New Mexico in anticipation of a funeral for a family member. It’s a fraught situation because of their conflicted feelings about the recently deceased, and because they’re all dealing with major life developments (until now kept secret from one another) that will soon require them to make some hard choices. The play’s story hinges on the gradual revelation of their secrets—but it isn’t about those secrets so much as it is about how they deal with the choices that must be made. The drama of their various dilemmas remains quiet and subterranean for the most part—which is perhaps why the play manages to be persistently amusing in the midst of the serious subjects it considers.
Among those subjects are family, parenthood, care-giving, love and the inevitability of loss, but it would be reductive to think that the play is about any of those things per se. They are simply the concerns that preoccupy the four characters at this particular juncture in their complicated, messy lives.
It’s worth noting how often a character in Curve of Departure says “I don’t know.” Sometimes it’s in answer to a question, but more often it’s an interjected confession of uncertainty about something the character is wrestling with. The true drama embedded in Curve of Departure comes from the fact that most of the big life choices its characters are facing must be made in a twilight state of uncertainty. Ultimately each will do what he or she thinks is best, but they can’t know if they’re making the right choice; all they know is that any choice comes with some risk—and possibly with a steep price.
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Variations on the stage direction “raising an eyebrow” appear at least a half-dozen times in the script for Curve of Departure. Early in the first week of rehearsal, one of the actors asked Bonds, “Does that mean you want me to literally raise an eyebrow?”
Bonds smiled and shook her head. She explained that, for her, a stage direction of that kind is simply a way to “map a little event” that she wants to call to the attention of the actor in that moment. It’s up to the individual actor to choose how to physicalize a response to that event so the audience can perceive it.
Playwright Rachel Bonds and Director Mike Donahue.
The forward movement and emotional resonance of Curve of Departure depend on the mapping of such little events, which makes the play both a challenge and a rich opportunity for its director and actors.
Staging this world premiere production will be Mike Donahue, a frequent Bonds collaborator making his SCR debut (although Donahue did visit SCR to direct the reading of Curve of Departure in the 2016 Pacific Playwrights Festival). When asked what makes Donahue a good director for her work, Bonds speaks of his sensitivity and his attention to detail, among other qualities. In other words, he knows how to guide actors in telling a story that relies on little gestures and small events.
He also knows how to find actors who have what it takes to do that kind of work. His cast for Curve of Departure includes four exceptionally gifted actors, three of whom have made numerous previous appearances at SCR.
THE CAST: Christian Barillas, Kim Staunton, Larry Powell and Allan Miller.
Allan Miller (Rudy) last appeared at SCR in the world premiere of Donald Margulies’ Brooklyn Boy (2004) and he played Willy Loman in SCR’s 1997 production of Death of a Salesman. Miller, a familiar face from countless roles on film and television, also played the role of Rudy in the 2016 PPF reading of Curve of Departure.
Kim Staunton (Linda) played Linda Loman in SCR’s 2013 production of Death of a Salesman and also appeared in SCR’s 1999 production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson.
Christian Barillas (Jackson) appeared in seven iterations of SCR’s annual production of A Christmas Carol between 2006 and 2013, and subsequently has played a series of colorful characters in SCR’s The Motherf**ker with the Hat, Peter and the Starcatcher and Amadeus.
Making his SCR production debut, Larry Powell (Felix) has been seen locally in Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride at the Geffen Playhouse and Lucas Hnath’s The Christians at the Mark Taper Forum (in a role he also played in Louisville and Off-Broadway). Powell also played Felix in the PPF reading of Curve of Departure.
Learn more about the actors and the characters they play in Curve of Departure.