BWW Review: Parsons and Spinella Clash in THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN
Sometimes, all you have to do to get a laugh is have the curtain rise on a sleeping Estelle Parsons in a room full of Molotov cocktails with a Zippo lighter dangling from her hand.
The octogenarian actor, seven years older than the character she's playing, has a long history of bringing realistic gravitas to a parade of eccentrics, and it's quite a boon for first time Broadway playwright Eric Coble to acquire the services of such a distinguished and distinctive talent.
He didn't do very shabbily for the male half of this ninety minute two-hander, either. Stephen Spinella, in the considerably less flashy role (though he does get a good entrance), finds interesting textures even when feeding straight lines to his co-star. (Him: "Different strokes." Her: "She did. She had two different stokes.")
If the playwriting matched the acting, The Velocity of Autumn would be a heck of a night out, but though Coble's work is not without its charm, the familiar set-up - an adult child tries to keep a parent from doing something crazy to avoid being sent to a nursing home - is injected with a twist that fails to contribute any tension.
Alexandra is a 79-year-old painter who can barely hold a brush anymore. Her flowered dress and headband (costumes by Linda Cho) suggest a Bohemian lifestyle, as do the dozens of Molotov cocktails she's placed around the living room of her Brooklyn brownstone. (Eugene Lee's terrific set indicates the unkempt digs of a free spirit, with an enormous autumnal tree outside.)
Her three children are concerned that she's no longer capable of caring for herself and would like to have her living safely in a facility. But the feisty dame has barricaded the door and is threatening to torch the place if anything ties to drag her out.
Her estranged son, Chris, clad in denim and cowboy books with his hair tied in a ponytail, has managed to get inside and for the length of the play tries to talk some sense into her, but now her continual threats to set the building ablaze carry no weight because you know she's not going kill her son to make her point.
The usual assortment of warm memories, resurfacing conflicts and bouts with the indignities of aging are brought up and explored with the usual degrees of insightfulness. Given the premise, there's little that director Molly Smith can do, staging-wise, to spruce up the proceedings.
At one point, Alexandra says Chris' homosexuality made his deceased father uncomfortable. "Like Gorgonzola cheese."
Chris replies, "I have no idea how to respond to that."
Much of The Velocity of Autumn had me feeling the same way.