BWW Reviews: Arena Stage's Hysterical and Poignant THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN

If you disregard the Molotov cocktails which litter the stage, then The Velocity of Autumn is a poignant comedy about a situation countless theatergoers can relate to. And yet the explosives that surround the set in Arena Stage's production of Eric Coble's terrific new play are symbolic reminders about just how hard the human spirit will fight to retain freedom, even as the human body confines us to a different fate.

The Velocity of Autumn concerns an elderly lady named Alexandra, barricaded in the living room of her Brooklyn Brownstone and surrounded by homemade explosives. Unable to reach a decision with her children about where to spend her remaining years, Alexandra's estranged son Chris returns to see if he can mediate a solution before the whole neighborhood goes up in flames. Together, the two rekindle a once close relationship and attempt to come to terms with the enigma that is the aging process.

Eric Coble's script is wickedly funny and wonderfully touching. The Velocity of Autumn is filled with many terrific one-liners that not only provide laughs, but great insight into who Alexandra was and why she's fighting so hard to stay in HER home. Throughout the play we see the toll age has taken on Alexandra, yet Coble's script doesn't typecast her as a crazed or pathetic old lady. Instead, she's someone we've all seen before, whether it be an aging parent, grandparent, relative, friend or neighbor. Our hearts truly do go out to Alexandra and that's what makes The Velocity of Autumn so wonderful.

Estelle Parsons' portrayal of Alexandra is hysterical and deeply moving. If there's a villain in The Velocity of Autumn it is age, and Parsons is at her best not when she's verbally battling her son holding an explosive and a lighter, but when she's battling time. Indeed the most poignant moments of the show are when she's listening to Chris, and we realize that she's not listening as much as she's searching for memories that old age has stolen. It takes a great actress to convey that much with non-verbal communication and Parsons is that actress.

Joining Parsons is Stephen Spinella, who gives a layered performance as her estranged son Chris. Spinella does a tremendous job showcasing the emotional complexity of Chris' situation. Returning home for the first time in years brings many emotions which Chris must face in addition to attempting to prevent his mother from being harmed. One only has to consider how many children have faced a similar situation with an aging parent and you realize why The Velocity of Autumn is such a relevant piece.

Molly Smith has done a solid job directing The Velocity of Autumn. The pacing is fluid, allowing Parsons and Spinella to command the show. Together, they are more explosive than the actual bombs that fill the stage. Both Set Designer Eugene Lee and Costume Designer Linda Cho have created a home and wardrobe that provides further insight into Alexandra's life. This allows the audience a brief glimpse of Alexandra before old age started to overcome her.

With this production being billed as The Velocity of Autumn's pre-Broadway engagement, the show seems in good shape for its move north to the Great White Way. Eric Coble's play may use explosives as a way to dramatize Alexandra's quest to stay put, but the message isn't lost. As more and more theatergoers encounter similar situations at home, The Velocity of Autumn will continue to provide comfort in recognition that they are not alone.

Run time is one hour and twenty-five minutes with no intermission.

The Velocity of Autumn is currently playing at Arena Stage thru October 20. For more information on The Velocity of Autumn and to purchase tickets, please visit: http://www.arenastage.org/

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From This Author Benjamin Tomchik

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