Not many old people who fear being shipped off to a nursing home fight back with a home arsenal and bomb threats. However, the inimitable Estelle Parsons has gleefully unleashed her inner anarchist with gusto to do just that in the dark comedy "Velocity of Autumn," which opened Monday night in a wry, spirited Broadway production at the Booth Theatre. Playwright Eric Coble presents the aging decay of the human mind and body as a necessary process replete with mordantly humorous and empathetic moments. He lightens the potentially depressing subject matter by providing plenty of comedic zingers to both Academy Award-winner Parsons -- here powerful and ingratiating -- and to her co-star, the equally skilled Stephen Spinella. Both of these pros imbue their characters with genuine poignancy, rueful humor and their own adept timing. Molly Smith's deft direction also creates a sense of urgency during the 90-minute showdown about a seeming no-win situation.
THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN Broadway Reviews
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If you've ever had an elderly relative and been faced with the decision of whether to begin elder care, then you may find yourself connecting with "The Velocity of Autumn," the funny, touching new play by Eric Coble now open at the Booth Theatre. Directed by Molly Smith, the dark comedy explores the question of independence, familial obligation and the emotions one experiences when entering life's final chapter...It's a haunting reality, and one Parsons guides us through in a nuanced, skillful performance. She lets Alexandra be brash and ballsy, while still giving her moments of internal doubt and fear. Alexandra's mind might be foggy, but her tongue never numbs, and Parsons leads that attack with alacrity. You'll find yourself rooting for Alexandra, sympathizing with her even if the logical part of your brain knows her future is unavoidable.
Parsons is always the blazing focal point of the show, even when she's sharing the stage with Spinella and a glowingly orange tree. With seeming effortlessness, she plays a woman who's mind is failing her despite flashes of wit and rage and pettiness and compassion. Spinella plays her foil lovingly -- both as an actor and character, he can't contain his delight and amusement with his costar. Both performances are engaging enough to power through what's otherwise well-worn terrain. For a breezy 90 minutes in Parsons' company, we're happy to be held hostage. B+
Now 86, Ms. Parsons has lost little, if any, of her energy, and absolutely none of her ability to bring sustained, animated life to a well-drawn character...While the conversation occasionally strays into unprofitable byways, the play passes by breezily because Ms. Parsons is such fun to watch..."What the world is taking away from me, what time is taking away from me, what God is taking away from me - is me!" she says with a wail of despair at one point. In these moments, and in Ms. Parsons's more than capable hands, Mr. Coble's play rises above its slightly formulaic structure to become a dry-eyed, moving rumination on the hard fact that the progress of human life being what it is, truly happy endings are rare indeed.
At 86, Estelle Parsons is almost too sprightly and vigorous to fully convey the indignities of aging in The Velocity of Autumn, Eric Coble's two-hander play now receiving its Broadway premiere after a previous engagement at Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage. Playing Alexandra, a 79-year-old woman armed with dozens of homemade Molotov cocktails who has barricaded herself in her well-appointed Brooklyn brownstone rather than accede to her children's desire for her to move into a nursing home, the Oscar-winning actress delivers a memorable turn in an otherwise forgettable, schematic play.
The production, a success at Washington's Arena Stage, has been directed with an admirable minimum of sentimentality by that theater's artistic director, Molly Smith. Even with actors the caliber of Parsons and Spinella, however, this is a once-over-lightly insult to a subject that deserves so much more than a mechanical showcase for gold-standard performers.
This is one of those "is the old lady losing her marbles?" plays, in which the doddering, aching, creaking, 79-year-old heroine drifts from witty perceptiveness to the borders of senility and back at the snap of the playwright's whim, all the while wondering "who is going to take care of my tree?" The best idea author Eric Coble and director Molly Smith have had is to get Estelle Parsons to play the role. Ms. Parsons is 86, by the calendar, but still has all her marbles and reservoirs of acting skill too. She needs them to get through the ins and outs of her character, a sweet old lady who's angry because her favorite son--the gay one, naturally--hasn't spoken to her in twenty years so she fills her Brooklyn brownstone and the stage of the Booth with homemade Molotov cocktails in liquor bottles.
Eric Coble's 90-minute two-character comedy "The Velocity of Autumn," which has arrived on Broadway as a star vehicle for 86-year-old Oscar winner Estelle Parsons and two-time Tony winner Stephen Spinella, is the sort of well-meaning but static and underwhelming play that would be better suited for a budget-conscious regional theater...Parsons paints a lively but grounded portrait of this quirky, frenzied woman while Spinella, as the far less interesting character, graciously downplays his performance in order to let Parsons take the spotlight. They make a nice pair. Perhaps they can come back to Broadway in a more interesting play.
Eric Coble's new Broadway play consists of the negotiation between Alexandra (Estelle Parsons, spry at 86) and her son Chris (Stephen Spinella), an aging hippie in an unfortunate ponytail and mustache who's trying to end the standoff. There's zero suspense as to whether our gray panther will blow up her prized piece of real estate because Coble and director Molly Smith are more interested in the bickering between mother and son. If only we felt the same.
Eric Coble breaks the U.S. record for clichés per minute in "The Velocity of Autumn," his new cranky-codger two-character comedy...Not even the best efforts of Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella can justify this stupefying exercise in déjà vu, which wears out its welcome in five minutes flat, followed by 85 minutes of soul-shriveling tedium.
Ironically, the dominant sensation produced by Eric Coble's anemic two-hander is also that of growing old. The minutes slip by, you lose feeling in parts of your body and find yourself 90 minutes closer to the grave, with nothing to show for it but a crumpled Playbill. If producers were set on bringing a regional-theater sitcom to Broadway, at least they hired pros: Parsons does her crazy-bird shtick, holed up in a brownstone with Molotov cocktails that she'll ignite if her children force her into a nursing home. Spinella is sweetly hangdog as an estranged gay son who tries to talk her off the ledge.
This new Broadway production is ridiculous not just on the copyright page of the script by Eric Coble but also on every page thereafter...The play proceeds to tick off every item on the bad playwriting checklist (not to mention fans of good theater). Purple prose? How about Alexandra's ode to her father's Zippo: "The flame is pure. Primal. It's like going back to where we came from. Like home." Overwrought existential imagery? In a long monologue Alexandra compares life, with its spiraling perspectives, to the Guggenheim Museum...Deploying every trick she knows, Parsons miraculously makes this whirlwind of clichés coherent, but nothing can make her believable. And Stephen Spinella, in a sad ponytail wig as Chris, is essentially her caddy: carrying the lumpy bags of exposition and teeing up her shots. Nor can the director Molly Smith -- whose one big gesture, an aural cataclysm before the curtain, is a gross overreach -- do much to improve the texture of a play that's so synthetic it slips out of your memory even as you watch it.
There's a compelling and worthwhile story out there about an age-addled woman's battle to live out her life in her own home. "The Velocity of Autumn" isn't it. Toggling between glib one-liners and florid speeches, Eric Coble's two-hander adds nada to this topical conversation, along the way wasting a meaty subject, the talents of Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella and the audience's time and money...The inevitable conclusion is supposed to show how explosive life can turn. But the story presents life in such broad strokes and black and white that there's nothing at stake.