When multiple writers collaborate on a theatrical project to create a series of playlets, the result is often a potluck affair: a couple good ones, a couple bad ones and a couple in between. This makes “Departures,” receiving its world premiere at the NoHo Arts Center, all the more remarkable, as eight writers’ works have been interwoven harmoniously, and there isn’t a dud among the seven short plays. The result is a funny and well-observed show that juggles 12 characters with seemingly little effort under Bob Morrisey’s smooth direction. Each of the accomplished actors gets a moment to shine.
Gay couple Randy (Jonathan Zenz) and Scott (Michael Craig Shapiro) are waiting in an airport lounge for a flight to China, where they hope to retrieve their newly adopted daughter. Carrie (Andrea Lockhart), wearing a wedding dress, has left Justin (J.R. Mangels) at the altar, while the quietly furious Matthew (Robert Arbogast) isn’t attending his own nuptials at all. The Man (Danny Murphy), is in a bad mood and is taking it out on the Porter (Curtis C.), who is pushing the Man’s wheelchair around the airport. Pop (Morrisey) is intending to fly to Iraq to bring his grandson home from service, regardless of the wishes of his own son, Bobby (Jim Lunsford).
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Zenz and Shapiro are excellent as the upbeat and organized Randy and the angry and frustrated Scott, respectively. Lockhart seems lost and sympathetic as Carrie, and Mangels impresses with a convincing last-ditch attempt to win back his bride. Murphy is fine as the irascible Man, but Curtis C. brings a depth of humor and feeling to his role that makes one wish the whole play was about him. Morrisey is powerful as the determined war vet, but Lunsford gets bogged down in a one-note character. Arbogast offers a compelling intensity in his perf, and Melanie Ewbank is bluntly amusing as a straightforward mom. Finally, Effie Hortis is very funny as a flight attendant leaving increasingly explicit messages to an unresponsive lover over her cell phone, but the talented Roger Ainslie is unfortunately wasted in a silly captain-afraid-of-flying bit.
Mark Wyrick and Michael Catlin’s contributions to the show perhaps stand out the most, but Hortis’ effort is admirably offbeat among a memorable group of short plays. Morrisey keeps things flowing smoothly, benefiting hugely from Dana Moran Williams’ terrific scenic design. The set incorporates poster-size shots of orange sunsets, features multiple exits, and even the theater’s entrance area has been sleekly reconfigured to serve. Luke Moyer’s lighting effectively isolates important moments, and Zenz’s sound design combines evocative Muzak and appropriate sound effects.