As the curtain rises on Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn, directed with much heart by Molly Smith, we find Alexandra, played by the phenomenally spunky Estelle Parsons, under “extraordinary circumstances brought on by duress.” She has barricaded herself in her Brooklyn Brownstown and has decorated the apartment with a couple dozen Molotov cocktails, all of which she intends to use to blow herself up if her son and daughter refuse to call off their ploy to put her in a nursing home. It is as a result of this situation that we find her third son Christopher, played with a wealth of tenderness by Stephen Spinella, fumbling his way up a tree to break into the house through the window.
Christopher has come to help fix this situation before the cops are called, but instead finds that other amends must be made first; It has been 20 years since he last saw his mother when he left home to find his own freedom. As the conversation between the two of them enfolds, Christopher begins to see that his mother’s need for freedom in her older age is very much the same need that led him from his childhood home in New York over to New Mexico.
There is much comedy that tumbles forth from the reminiscing and arguing between Alexandra and Chris, but there are also some beautifully poignant moments. Even better, the transitions between the two are flawless and never feel forced on the audience. But then again, would one expect any less when Ms. Parsons and Mr. Spinella are together on stage.
It is revealed that Alexandra and Christopher are both painters as well as both very independent free spirits. It is the desire to be a free spirit that made Christopher leave New York, but it is also this desire that helps him understand his mother Unlike his brother and sister who are trying to put their mother in a nursing home, he begins to take her side in the fight for her freedom.
Even though Alexandra’s body and mind have begun to deteriorate with age, perhaps the hardest thing to for her to let go of is her freedom. At one point she exclaims that what everyone is trying to take away from her is “me.’ And my friend who accompanied me to this performance was so moved by the small physical gestures – especially with her hands – that Parsons used which reminded him so much of his own mother’s battle while fighting Alzheimer’s Disease. He said it was like he was watching his own mother on the stage.
Playwright Eric Coble has done a fine job of taking the well-worn topic of aging and examining it in a new light. There are many comparisons drawn to the aging process throughout the 90 minutes of the play, but each one offers a new layer into the complexity of this facet of life.
Estelle Parsons is a phenomenon. Her performance is as grand as the large tree that Set Designer Eugene Lee has created for this production. She delivers an energetic performance full of spontaneity and complexity that is both hysterical and deeply moving. She is paired well with Stephen Spinella who gives an equally inspiring performance that matches Ms. Parsons for the sophistication and attention to detail. The two of them play off of each other wonderfully, and the result is magical. These are superb and heartfelt performances that are not to be missed this or any season.
The Velocity of Autumn is playing 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.
From Arena Stage to The Booth: ‘The Velocity of Autumn’ Interviews: Part 1: Producers Larry Kaye and Van Dean & Playwright Eric Coble.
From Arena Stage to The Booth: ‘The Velocity of Autumn’ Interviews: Part 2: Meet Director Molly Smith and Cast Members Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella.
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.