Monday, September 23, 2013

On Stage: "The Velocity of Autumn" by Eric Coble

Img-the-velocity-of-autumn02One of my favorite theaters is the Arena Stage in Washington D.C.  It's an intimate space, with highly professional actors, often appearing in brand new plays or interesting revivals.  The theater itself received a Tony award in 1976, in recognition of its role as a trailblazer, outside of Broadway.

This weekend I saw a new production, "The Velocity of Autumn," starring Estelle Parsons as Alexandra, an elderly widow who refuses to go gentle into that good night. She is determined to stay in her New York brownstone -- no nursing home for her -- arming herself against the good intentions of family with Molotov cocktails and a barricade worthy of the French Revolution.  Alexandra's plan is frustrated by the return of her long-missing youngest son, the only one who remembers how to climb his mother's favorite tree to sneak in through a window. 

The conversation between mother and grown son is wry, poignant and often laugh-out-loud funny. On aging, Alexandra confesses that one surprising pleasure is being able to reread favorite mystery novels, because she no longer has any memory of who dunnit.   

It is a very New York kind of play, which should help it on its way to a planned Broadway premiere.  Even in D.C. there were lots of knowing chuckles at the inside jokes about Brooklyn.  And for the Elder Law Prof, there was an interesting little plot device that centered on powers of attorney.

But what most struck me was the fact that Estelle Parsons at 85 actually seemed too young to play the role of a creaky senior, a character of age 79.  Parson's physical strength -- strong, unbowed back and gently muscled biceps -- was at odds with the character's complaints about growing frailty.  This physical fact isn't a serious problem for the play.  All the lines still work, and Parson's timing on the clever lines was spot on.  But isn't it nice to see a woman of 85 as just a bit too vibrant to play a credible elder? 

The play is scheduled to run at Arena Stage through October 20.

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