As opposed to film, which tends to magnify emotions and undermine physicality, the stage can mute emotions and magnify all that is physical. "Departures", an 80-minute one act comedy in which most of the actors remain onstage from start to finish, is particularly theatrical in the emphasis it places on the cast’s physical interactions.
The play is composed of eight individual stories, by eight different playwrights, woven together into a loosely cohesive whole. The show opens on an older woman, played by Jo Jordan, carrying a plastic baby and walking around an airport departure lounge. Like most such spaces, the room is cold and boring, that is until the other 14 passengers with their all-too-human tragi-comedies start stepping in.
Family arguments, cellphone melodramas or simple interactions between strangers pop up as different pairs of people wait to board their planes. One thing becomes clear after all the characters have had a chance to speak: they’re all dysfunctional. In its celebratory acceptance of dysfunctional people, and in its self-conscious language, Departures couldn’t be more contemporary. Almost too contemporary (think romantic comedy).
Some of the exchanges aren’t great, but they’re all entertaining and carefully put together. There’s talk of war, fear, death and frustration, but the delivery is kept largely comedic -- a good choice in the end.
Because the eight playlets have no common dramatic axis, the common space unifies things. One thinks that no matter how different people’s circumstances might be, they’re all in the same world, the same departure room, as it were. For instance, when a pilot, KJ Lodge, shares his fear of flying with a runaway bride, Mary Evans, who shares how she just fled her wedding, the rest of the people in the terminal reacts in different ways. Some glance, others stare, check them out, jump in, look away, or merely turn on their iPods. Something’s going on everywhere on stage at every point of the play, as if you were looking through an airport security camera.