Tonight The Velocity of Autumn by Eric Coble begins previews at The Booth Theatre. It’s been an exciting journey so far for the play that entertained enthusiastic audiences at Arena Stage. Audiences in DC and critics alike admired the glorious performances of Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons and Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella.
In a series of interviews with Producers Larry Kaye and Van Dean, Playwright Eric Coble, Arena Stage’s Artistic Director Molly Smith, who is making her Broadway debut with Velocity of Autumn, and stars Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella (which I did at The Press Get-together at Sardis on March 3rd, they all talk about the DC run, the ‘tweaks’ that have been made for the Broadway production, and why they feel the time is perfect to bring this heart-warming, funny, and poignant play to The Big Apple.
In Part One: Meet Producers Larry Kaye and Van Dean and Playwright Eric Coble.
Producers Larry Kaye and Van Dean:
Joel: Why is The Velocity of Autumn the right show to bring to Broadway now?
Larry: It’s such a gorgeous play and it’s a play about something that is happening in families across America. This subject of how we deal with aging parents, and how we as people who age feel is really an important subject, and yet, it is treated with such humor and with such tenderness-it’s such a great play. And we have two wonderful performers-Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella.
Joel: Why did you want to produce The Velocity of Autumn?
Van Dean: For the same reasons Larry said. The show speaks to everyone. Everyone who comes to Broadway will be able to relate to the issues in this play. It affects every family, and it is treated in a way that is both compelling and humorous, and also thought-provoking.
Joel: Let’s talk about the Booth Theatre, which is one of my favorite theatres. Why is it the perfect theatre for this show?
Van: We are glad to have this historic theatre on Broadway. It’s the perfect size and it’s perfect for this play which requires intimacy. And every seat is fantastic.
What has changed since the run at Arena Stage?
Larry: Most of it is the same. There are some changes with the set. Set Designer Eugene Lee the tree so it comes over the set like a canopy. There have been some small rewrites of the play, but it is essentially the same story, and we are delighted that we have the same cast. Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella are so superb in what they do and how they bring this story to people, and how they make people feel. It’s really wonderful.
Van: As Larry said – the changes are minor to the script because it was in such great shape in DC. We made some modifications based on what we learned in DC.
Joel: Why did you choose Molly Smith her to direct The Velocity of Autumn?
Larry: I have been a fan of Molly’s for a long time. She has the capacity to really burrow into a script, and to find the nuance in relationships. And when you have a two-character play and the characters are on the stage for the whole show, you really need a director who can help the actors find so many different levels and nuance in their performances. And you put together someone like Molly Smith with gold star actors like Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella and you really have magic.
Van: Molly has been making a major impact on theatre for some time now, especially at Arena Stage, and has often helmed some visionary productions, including Oklahoma! and Mother Courage and her Children. She brings a unique sensibility to the play. She’s also a strong woman director and we are thrilled that we are part of her Broadway debut. It’s well-deserved and we look forward to working with her on the show.
Playwright Eric Coble:
Joel: Here we are at the press get-together (on March 3rd). How do you feel?
Eric: I am overwhelmed. Now I know what it’s like to be hit by flashing lights by the camera crews. It’s astonishing!
Especially by these great New York theatre press photographers.
Yes! And I have never been inside Sardi’s. I’m taking it moment-to-moment. It’s all new.
So what’s changed since DC?
We had to be really careful because so much of it worked. Audiences responded so strongly that we felt that you don’t want to mess that up. You don’t want to kill what was magic about it, so we had to try to keep all that. But within all that we knew there were moments we could deepen and there were some character issues that were never fully explained.
Can you give me one example?
The final trigger of why her son left her over 20 years ago. Why the son left town is explained a little bit more. We don’t want to belabor it, but this was always the mystery of the play.
So we now learn why he believed he needed to leave?
Talk about being in The Booth Theatre.
I had never been in the Booth before until I went in with the production team, and got to look around. It’s true-it’s so intimate! You never feel far away from the stage. I was in the back row of the balcony looking down and I felt like I was on the stage. It’s a larger house than we played in DC but it still feels so intimate. I don’t know how they achieved that. I am so glad Larry held out until we were able to get there.
People might not know but you held out to find the right theatre.
When we were talking about moving it to New York last spring the theatres that became available to us were too large. They weren’t right for this play. Larry and Molly really protected the show by saying, “No,, we need a small space. This can’t be swallowed up. This is an intimate drama and this is something that people need to relate closely.” And so they waited and agreed to do at Arena Stage first, which was great so we could work on it there in an intimate space, and now we get to bring it back to what I think is the best house on Broadway.
Who are the Standbys for Estelle and Stephen?
Libby George who is the Standby for Estelle toured with her in the National Tour of August: Osage County, where she played Mattie Fae Aiken, and she is incredibly talented. Steven Hauck, who is the Standby for Stephen Spinella.
The two had echoes of what Estelle and Stephen and they also are bringing their own things to it, and they are super-smart and they just dove in and made great choices right out the gate in auditions. I was there for two days of auditions. There were a couple of dozen actors who auditioned. They were people who had done this kind of thing before.
The Velocity of Autumn begins previews tonight -April 1st and opens on April 21, 2014 at The Booth Theatre-225 West 45th Street, in New York City. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200, OR 800-432-7250, purchase them online at Telecharge, or in person at The Booth Theatre – 222 West 45th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue), in New York City.
Attending ‘The Velocity of Autumn’ Meet the Press at Sardi’s Today by Joel Markowitz.
An Interview with Playwright Eric Coble on His Play ‘The Velocity of Autumn’ at Arena Stage by Joel Markowitz.
Review of The Velocity of Summer by Nicole Cusick on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Review of The Velocity of Autumn by John Stoltenberg on DCMetroTheaterArts.
A Mother and a Son Look at ‘The Velocity of Autumn’ by Ellouise Schoettler on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Here are Libby George and Steven Hauck’s bios:
LIBBY GEORGE (Alexandra Standby) is happy to be making her Broadway debut in a play starring Ms. Parsons (having played sisters in the August: Osage County tour). She’s appeared Off-Broadway at the Public, Marymount, American Place, Riverside Shakespeare and Peccadillo. Toured with the Acting Company (three seasons), worked regionally at Utah Shakespeare Festival, Pioneer, McCarter, Hartford Stage, Baltimore Center Stage, the Folger and AlabamaShakespeare. TV/film work includes The Feud, Choose, all three “Law & Orders,”“The Book of Daniel” and “Rescue Me.”
STEVEN HAUCK (Chris Standby). Broadway: Irena’s Vow. Off-Broadway: One Arm (Moisés Kaufman/New Group), The Screwtape Letters, King Lear with Paul Sorvino. International: Phantom in Berlin, Vienna and Paris. Regional: Twelve Angry Men (Engemen), Art (Geva), Cyrano, (Milwaukee Rep). Film and TV: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Oldboy, What Happens Next, “The Americans,” “Elementary,” and “Boardwalk Empire.”