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4/22/14

The Velocity of Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella

One of the reasons I love Broadway is that it celebrates actors of a certain age and a different type of talent-level that television and cinema would relegate to supporting characters, independent film or cable television (and even those platforms are on a good day). In particular, it is a tumultuous affair for women, because not everyone is Meryl Streep.

This notion of Broadway’s benevolence is epitomized by the arrival of The Velocity of Autumn into the Booth Theatre, which opened last night. With the Broadway debut of writer Eric Coble - and with Molly Smith, the artistic director for Arena Stage in Washington (where Velocity had its debut), not exactly a household name - the show hinges on its only two performers, Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella, to fill the seats and give the audiences something to talk about.

Parsons character is just as fabulous as she sounds - a batshit crazy bitch barricading herself into her Brooklyn Brownstone with a bunch of home-made explosives should anyone intrude (take that Les Miserables!). Spinella plays the estranged son of hers tasked with climbing into her place and talking her down without blasting away her prime real estate. They reunite and reflect and talk and blah blah blah…

But let me tell you...Parsons is pretty much perfection, conveying an intelligent, artistic woman, but also a beleaguered one who refuses to succumb to her old age and decaying body/mind. She’s whip-smart and blunt, which makes every one of her lines sing with hilarity and/or emotion. Lady doesn’t want to be deprived of her freedom and cast aside into an assisted-living facility…and I believe her. When the stage went dark, the first thing I said to Courtney was that Parsons achieved a similar feat to what Cicely Tyson did last year in The Trip to Bountiful.

Spinella starts off a little rusty, but when he hits his stride and starts returning Parsons’ verbal volleys, he’s a worthy adversary-turned-companion for her. And by the time he reaches that bug-eyed state of cray - that anyone would when his/her mother is ready to blow themselves up to thy kingdom come - his character transitions are seamless.

Coble’s story and dialogue is well-tread territory, but the best and worst label I could apply is that it is inoffensive. Eugene Lee’s set - the aforementioned Brooklyn Brownstone with a huge, adjacent autumn tree - is without parody and perfectly compliments Parsons’ character. I love a good small budget, minimal design aesthetic and that was what this two-character play called for. I’d live in that brownstone if all those home-made bombs weren't littered throughout. That is a real estate buzzkill and would send every couple on House Hunters running away (this time, for a legitimate reason that isn’t the wall color).

There isn’t much to talk about in The Velocity of Autumn with how deliberately standard it is, but thankfully, the two leads will make you happy you showed up anyways.


Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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