Past is present is future in 'Curve of Departure' at Chester Theatre Company

Raye Birk as Rudy and Ami Brabson as his daughter-in-law, Linda, in Chester Theatre Company's production of "Curve of Departure," through Sunday at Town Hall Theatre in Chester.

CHESTER — The setting for Rachel Bonds' gentle, loving "Curve of Departure" — which is being given a gentle, loving, understanding New England premiere at Chester Theatre Company — is set in a motel room in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As invitingly designed by Juliana von Haubrich, it is a neat, sunny, roomy affair with two queen size beds and a cot, enough to accommodate its four occupants — Linda (an exquisite Ami Brabson), an African American woman in her 50s, a teacher who is doing the best to take care of her eightysomething Jewish father-in-law, Rudy (an effective Raye Birk), who is descending into dementia and whose insides are failing him.

"Everything inside you turns to liquid and then tries to come out of you," he grouses as he makes a run for the bathroom, with Linda's assistance.

Joining Rudy and Linda are her adult son, Felix (beautifully crafted by Paul Pontrelli), who runs a start-up company, and his partner, Jackson (a convincing, nicely nuanced Jose Espinosa), who seems just a bit at odds and ends in his life but who has brought to his relationship with Felix something seemingly serious in the way of love. Something else, as well.

Jackson, who has little money of his own, and Felix, who is doing well, have taken over care of Jackson's little-over-two-year-old niece, Yara, whom social services is threatening to pull out of a threatening home situation and place in foster care unless Jackson and Felix take her.

"So," Jackson tells Linda, "we took her."

They have had her for three months and are considering filing for permanent custody but the situation is volatile. Felix is uncertain about making such a commitment without certainty about his relationship with Jackson and their future. Moreover, they are fearful that Jackson's sister and her drug-addict boyfriend might attempt to snatch her.

Linda, Rudy, Felix and Jackson have come to Santa Fe for the funeral the next day of Linda's ex-husband, who died of a heart attack while at work. Linda is free of a difficult marriage into a family, on her dead mother-in-law's side, that was unwelcoming. But this is what you do; this is how you honor, in death, a partner; the father of your son, your gay son.

It is a strong measure of Bonds' writing and especially Keira Naughton's unassuming direction that none of this tips into melodrama. The play is, at its heart, very much about the choices we make in life and how we handle the consequences of those choices; how we weigh the options that chart the courses of life.

Brabson's Linda is a quintessential self-sacrificing human being; devoted and caring mother and caregiver. Her concern for Felix and how sure he can be about Jackson's constancy is affecting and real. She is facing a tough choice of her own — Rudy clearly is at a point at which he is going to need full-time care, something far beyond the financial means of anyone in the room. The option of moving him into a home is equally unpalatable and financially impractical. Linda is seriously considering taking early retirement, giving up a portion of her pension and benefits and work she loves to take care of an old man who, when he is not running to the bathroom, watches TV. "I am old, I am sick, I am bored," he growls. And, he has come to his own solution regarding what lies ahead.

As the play ends, with the sun coming up on a new and challenging day, Linda, Rudy, Felix and Jackson gather on the balcony outside their room for an impromptu toast. In a preceding private moment with Linda before the boys begin stirring, Birks' Rudy delivers in a poignant monologue a deeply affecting moment of clarity and expression of loss — of so many things on so many levels — that evolves, when the boys emerge, into a moment of goodbyes and greetings — soft, unsentimental, real, human.