BWW Reviews: Loss Of Self Is Inevitable In VELOCITY OF AUTUMN

Who does someone become when their memories fade? When they can no longer do the things they love, when they can no longer remember the names of the ones they loved? When does a person merely become a shell, a blurred imprint of the person they used to be?

In The Velocity of Autumn, 79-year-old Alexandra grapples with her impending mortality, and the slow, but inevitable loss of the nimble, creative woman she was in her youth. She has torn her artwork from the walls because she can no longer hold a paintbrush. Her living room, walled with an array of bookshelves, a dining table lined with playing cards and a bowl of fruit, and blue curtains hanging from the window, is a quick glimpse into the kind of woman Alexandra used to be--a well-spoken, artistic intellectual.

Alexandra has barricaded herself in her apartment, blocking the main door and refusing to speak to her two eldest children. Most noticeably, countless bottles filled with developer fluid clutter the space of her home. Alexandra has threatened to set her home on fire--and possibly take down her neighbors in the building with her--if she is forced to a nursing home.

Her son, Chris, is the only one Alexandra will listen to.

Chris, who has not been home for 20 years, climbs up the tree and through the window to try to convince his mother not to set herself and the rest of the block on fire. The rest of the show is mostly dialogue between Alexandra and Chris that exposes their reflective and contemplative nature. The two are two sides of the same coin--their empathy is poignantly synchronized, leaving the audience to feel both relieved and melancholic. There are tender, lighthearted moments of witty banter, as well as solemn, uncomfortable moments where the characters experience a flood of raw emotion.

What could have easily dissolved into a sappy, quirky run-of-the-mill piece, instead is a provocative insight into repressed existential thought, and the inevitable train we all refuse to see coming.

Judy Rollings is an absolute treasure. She perfectly portrays all sides of Alexandra: the witty, artistic intellectual who can easily exchange banter--and tenderness--with her son, as well as the quick-tempered, snappy woman struggling with dementia and loss of self. Rollings flawlessly executes the gamut of emotions. She is empathetic, blunt, kind, and cruel. What Rollings does is something all actors aspire to do: she embodies a mirror of human emotion and allows the audience access to all of it--even, and especially, the ugly parts.

Although Rollings gets the sassy one-liners and the occasional erratic emotional outburst, Brad Bond as Chris more than holds his own. Bond evokes a rare genuineness and sympathetic patience the audience never grows tired of. If Alexandra is the oncoming thunderstorm, Chris is the hushed rustle of autumn leaves momentarily suspended in the air. Bond's performance is heartbreakingly authentic--his emotional range does more than draw the viewer in, it reminds them of the softness they too should attempt when engaging with their loved ones.

Playwright Eric Coble's dark and all-too-real existential script is impeccably timed with cute punchlines and casual humor, representing the ease with which the characters divert to humor to cope with their real-life issues. The monologues are beautiful, and several lines are unforgettable, in particular Alexandra's confession to her son, "I opened you up the way I wanted to be opened," and the more melancholy lines exhibiting Alexandra's understanding of her impending mortality, such as, "It's been a good body."

Director and producer Rosemary Close's blocking was overall very natural, and seemed less like "play blocking" and more like actual real-life movement. Several times, Rolling's back was towards the audience, yet this only added to the authenticity of the show. Kailey Mattheisen's light and sound design allowed for the audience to enjoy the performance with ease. Christopher Haines's scenic design was flawless in portraying the woman Alexandra used to be--the tragic reality of Alexandra's faded self exemplified by white squares on the wall where her paintings used to hang.

Alexandra's haunting line, "Truth is, I'm not me anymore," resonated in me for quite some time after the show. It made me--and I'm sure many other audience members--wonder, what is it like to know you were losing yourself, yet know you can do nothing about it? The Velocity of Autumn is a mirror into oneself--it is about analyzing your own humanity, knowing the end could come any day. It urges you to make your life one of meaning through love and beauty.

"Show me the beauty," Alexandra says. And iTheatre Collaborative does exactly that.

Velocity of Autumn runs until September 18 at the Herberger Theater Center. Visit itheatre.org for tickets.

Photo credit: Mark Gluckman



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From This Author Erin Kong

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