Kristen Palmer's Departures is a distillation of the love story into our fragile modern world, a show about two tentative lovers who fall into each other--at first out of convenience and carnal needs--and find something there that's sweet and scary all at once. It's a simple, lovely story, intimate in direction, action, and even the placement of the audience itself.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
For all that Romeo and Juliet is a good love story, for all the ages, there's something a little unsettling about it: the youth, the naivety, and the needless resolute tragedy of the ending. I find myself drawn to the fragility of Kristen Palmer's Departures a little more, a play whose tragedy isn't the finality of death, but the death knoll of long distance: Cara (Keira Keeley) is going home to America in three months, and Andrew (Travis York) will be left behind, to drink his way to an early death in mopey Wakefield, England. These two may speak less poetically than those star-crossed lovers, but there's something more immediate in their contemporarily beautiful words. By staying simple and true, with a fine cast and focused direction, Departures is a quiet marvel on its own; not meant to be compared with Shakespeare, but of fine caliber all the same.
Palmer's effect stems from the contrast between the openhearted emotion of Andrew and restrained concerns of Cara. Andrew's the sort of man who loudly (and at length) broadly declaims words like "sure" (and all other "indeterminate expressions of emotion") and casts all his loving fantasies as miniature epics of long-lost angels and dreams. On the other hand, Cara speaks from the terrible future she can't seem to escape, a place that's she run to trying to escape her equally terrible past, a past that shakes her into a cold sweat every night. But the two are united by their commonalities: they're both writers without outlets, they both seek the momentary respite of alcohol, and they both find great passion, whether it's through tense arguments or tender agreements. For dramatic sake, Palmer doesn't spend much time in the sweet somethings of their "doomed" relationship: the prelude to the play opens at the start of summer, and the remainder takes place three months later, two days before Cara's departure.
Kerry Lee Chipman's set drops the two actors in the pit of what looks like a large half-pipe, as if they've literally fallen for each other, and then uses the opposite lips or outer boundaries of the central bedroom to set the distancing monologues. Director Kyle Ancowitz uses the tight central space to force the actors to really use one another--there's nowhere else for them to go. It also focusing the audience, who sit sits on opposite ends, like spectators at an amateur tennis match peering down at each new volley: Andrew plans to visit Cara by means of an illegal scheme his mates have cooked up; Cara can't stand Andrew being so close, because she can't afford to hurt anyone else; Andrew can't stand his own loneliness. There are no crazy twists, no last minute deus ex machina: the minute intricacies of the human heart are more than adequate.
Such simple work, even with the elevated, far from indeterminate language of the script, is actually hard to perform, as it requires attention to detail, especially with the audience looming so close. York and Keeley are a fantastic match, with fine chemistry both in their intimate moments under the covers and their public spats around the flat and in the hallway. York plays the more expressive character, and he does a fine job of keeping the play lively and on its feet, sweetly charming, and all the more sympathetic because of his wounded confidence. He says he won't get on without her, and there's the sense that he won't; likewise, thanks to Keeley's strong partnering, in Cara's eyes, it's clear that she can't live with the responsibility for Andrew's heart.
The play ends with Andrew driving Cara to the airport, and as Palmer points out earlier in the script, "when you leave, you don't get to find out what happens." But given the delight I had watching these two find sweet succor in one another, full of wistful glances even after their climactic fight, I'd like to hazard a pleasant guess and hope for the best.
Access Theater (380 Broadway)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00
Performances (through 10/28): Thursday - Sunday @ 8:00
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.