There is one thing that we all have in common. As long as we live, we continue to change as we age. With age, comes experience, perhaps wisdom, and a measure of perspective, but what of our independence and abilities? After the summer of adulthood, does the velocity increase exponentially in the autumn of life? TheatreWorks is excited to present one answer to that question with the regional premiere of Eric Coble’s 2014 play, The Velocity of Autumn, which closes its 46th season in style with a delicious slice of life to which we can all relate.
Giovanna Sardelli directs Susan Greenhill and Mark Anderson Phillips as Alexandra and Chris, an estranged mother and son. They work through Alexandra’s rage and sense of loss as she is being pressured by her other children to give up the thing she holds most dear – her independence.
Early in the play, Chris makes an unorthodox entry into the brownstone through a second story window via a tree. He’s the youngest of Alexandra’s children, and he has been away for several years. They banter for a bit, but eventually, Alexandra sets the tone with the following statement:
“I used to think old age would be this fine knowledgeable time – the sum of all the things I’d spent three-quarters of a century learning. And now, I find out, 79 years too late, that old age is one big game of ‘Surprise’. All the time. Every day.”
And that’s the crux of the play – old age isn’t just the loss of ability. It’s a state of flux, with things changing every day, and not for the better, though it’s the loss of independence that causes the most grief.
Alexandra was an artist, but now, she can’t paint because her hands don’t work quite right. In defiance of her other offspring’s pressure, she’s barricaded herself in her brownstone and sealed all of the external doors, and most of the windows, with duct tape. As a final touch, she’s lined the place with Molotov cocktails of film developing fluid (which is highly flammable). She’s told them to stay out, or she’ll go out in blaze of glory and take the house down with her – though Chris reminds her that she’d likely take out the whole block in the process.
Only Chris can connect with her. He too is an artist, a non-linear thinker, and though he initially has a little trouble getting his head around the situation, he can communicate with her, not at her. Their discussion is funny, heart-felt, and reminds us of the importance of following our dreams in life.
Andrew Boyce’s scenic design is gorgeous down to the smallest detail. The story takes place in Alexandra’s living room. The picture window upstage center is graced by lovely autumn-leaved trees, the largest of which is climbable (and supports Phillips nicely for his entrance). Chairs and tables are stacked as a barricade against the front door. Duct tape is visible around the windows and doors. A hallway to the back of the house is visible next to the front door stage left. Bookcases, other living room furnishings, and nick knacks adorn the set, including the carefully constructed “cocktails.” The walls even contain appropriate electrical outlets.
Greenhill is a firecracker, embodying the rage that Alexandra feels as her world closes in on her. She captures the physical decline her character wrestles with, carefully hanging onto shelves or chairs as she circumnavigates the room. She exudes humor, desperation, and rage, often simultaneously, as she showers Chris with her demands, her fascinating life story, and her perspective.
Phillips starts out a little tentatively, jumping back as Alexandra brandishes a lighter with her “cocktail.” Chris needs to assess the situation with his mother. As he listens, he starts to connect and accept Alexandra’s position, and rather than trying to strong arm her, he approaches her as the person she still is. Phillips adopts a gentler manner as time goes on, though along the way, Chris is interrupted several times by his cell phone, which he grabs angrily from his pocket each time, his annoyance with his siblings visibly increasing with each call.
The two have a great rapport. Their characters appear to genuinely respect and love one another, even though they are initially at odds. Eventually, Alexandra confides to Chris in anguish, “I can’t keep me!” Greenhill’s delivery is perfect, and it is heart wrenching. As the story continues, the two come to a meeting of the minds, and the story ends on a very satisfying high note.
The only slight negative is related the music playing at the top of the show. The music starts during the opening blackout and, as the lights come up, we see Alexandra sleeping in her chair before Chris’ entrance. It’s not clear if it’s meant to indicate that she is hard of hearing as there are no other hints of that particular disability throughout the performance, but the music blares at a painfully high decibel level until the booming moves from speakers throughout the theatre to the onstage stereo. Fortunately it’s short lived and provides a context for later comments about Alexandra’s love of opera. Also, it is nice recording.
The Velocity of Autumn depicts a slice of life that hits home. We can all see changes taking place, in ourselves, our parents, our grandparents, and close friends. It’s scary, and it’s human. And we all yearn for peace and acceptance as time marches on.
What: The Velocity of Autumn, by Eric Coble
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View
When: Continues through 26 June 2016
See http://www.theatreworks.org/shows/1516-season/the-velocity-of-autumn, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (650)463-1960 for more information or to order tickets.
(Photo credits: Kevin Berne)
The Velocity of Autumn, by Eric Coble