‘Curve of Departure’
Through Jan. 14
1501 14th St., N.W.
In the superbly acted “Curve of Departure” now at Studio Theatre, out actor Justin Weaks plays 20-something Felix. He and his partner Jackson (played by Sebastian Arboleda) are in love but facing challenges. The actors’ portrayal of the young couple sparks with chemistry and the feel of authenticity.
“It’s easy to play Sebastian’s boyfriend. He and I clicked when we first met and have become close friends,” says Weaks, 27. “We’re often mistaken for boyfriends when we’re out chillin’.”
Might life be imitating here?
“I’m single,” Weaks says.
Written by Rachel Bonds, the new work is about family, funerals and an uncertain future.
“It’s an honest look at the family today,” Weaks says. “The play breaks open what family means: It’s not about the same skin color or the same blood. We create families, and it’s important to see that on stage.”
The story unfolds in a New Mexico hotel room over the course of a couple days. After his father’s unexpected death, Felix travels with Jackson from Los Angeles to Sante Fe for the funeral. Money is tight so the couple shares a hotel room with Felix’s mother Linda (Ora Jones) and his paternal grandfather Rudy (Peter Van Wagner) who is grappling with dementia and incontinence. Biracial Felix, his black mother, and Jewish grandfather are a diverse group united by familial love and their dislike for Felix’s dad. Jackson, the latest addition to the group, is Latino.
“The play deals with heavy themes. Death and loss,” Weaks says. “There are intense emotional moments but the play is also lighthearted. The people are good people trying to do the right thing in less than ideal circumstances. But there’s a lot of hope in the play, and that’s what we need more of, especially at this time.”
Has Weaks ever played a gay character before Felix?
“I must have,” he says. “I know I’ve played characters that I feel are gay but may not be written explicitly as such. I draw those conclusions when I explore a character’s backstory.”
In Mosaic Theatre Company’s “Charm” about a transgender woman who gives deportment lessons to underserved LGBT youth Weaks played Jonelle who presented as female but identified as heterosexual.
“She was whatever she felt that particular day. Hers is a complicated gender identity.”
Weaks began working shortly after graduating with a theater degree from Greensboro College in his native North Carolina in 2012. His first professional gig was with Olney Theatre Center’s National Players which required nine months on the road.
In 2015 he become better acquainted with Washington while playing the title role in Theater Alliance’s “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” a play about a teenager who must convince his father that he’s doing the right thing.
“Being here for that show opened my eyes to what D.C. has to offer for union and nonunion actors alike, and its tightknit community of actors.”
But it was Theatre Alliance’s “Word Becomes Flesh” (an ensemble piece featuring a series of letters from a father to his unborn son) that sold Weaks on Washington, prompting him to make it his home.
“The production changed me a lot in terms of stories I wanted to tell,” he says. “I pushed myself and was pushed a great deal as an actor. It was scary but I knew I’d be a better artist for it.”
He collected a Helen Hayes Award for his efforts.
Weaks is one of the young African-American openly gay actors working in D.C. — others include Jon Hudson Odom, Freddie Bennett and Desmond Bing.
“Being gay isn’t something I run away from. There’s power in being at the intersection of black and queer. I have a responsibility to embrace myself. Being gay isn’t always on the front burner of my consciousness, but it definitely informs my work.”
Growing up, he says he didn’t think he’d be an actor. He was concerned about being able to find sustainable work. But that changed when he saw other successful actors.
“There’s something about seeing people like yourself living and thriving,” he says. “There’s a power in seeing that, especially in the time we’re living in which makes it all the more important to be visible.”