Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Seventy-nine-year-old Alexandra is becoming less and less of herself. She sometimes struggles for words, her body aches in ways it never has before, she is extremely agitated, and she states matter-of-factly that she is "done" and ready to die, but only on her own terms and at her own home. Her two eldest children, however, have other ideas and are trying to get her moved to a nursing home. So Alexandra barricades herself in her Brooklyn apartment. She doesn't just block the doors with furniture and refuse to speak to her children but also fills dozens of bottles with a flammable fluid and scatters these makeshift molotov cocktails across the room, ready to set fire to her home and end her lifeand possibly the lives of the other tenants as well.
As the play starts, Alexandra's youngest son Chris climbs the tree outside the apartment so he can get inside and try to talk his mother out of her crazy scheme. The 90-minute drama is filled with realistic dialogue that contains humor and hope along with despair. Coble paints two characters who exhibit traits that are extremely identifiablean estranged son and an aging parent, both unable to deal with the pressures of life and feeling detached from and uncomfortable with their place in it. These are people tackling issues we all deal with, or will one day, in ourselves or individuals we know. We may even see these characters as mirror images of ourselves.
Director Rosemary Close does exceptional work. Not only has she staged the action to make it appear natural, which can prove difficult when you have just two characters in one long dialogue on a stagnant set, but she ensures the cadence, tone and volume of the text is realistically delivered. The humorous exchanges are timed perfectly to achieve big laughs, and the several deeply emotional moments draw the audience in with expert delivery. At the performance I attended you could hear a pin drop due to the rapt attention from the audience.
Judy Rollings and Brad Bond are superb as Alexandra and Chris. They achieve a natural mother/son relationship in the way they speak to each other and how they interact. Alexandra is a woman who used to be a painter but can no longer hold a paintbrush, and the passion and wit of this artistic woman who now realizes her life is changing, and not for the better, is always present in Rollings' portrayal. While Rollings may have the more sympathetic role, Bond is equally as good as the patient son who has come to talk some sense into his mother. Bond is adept at showing us the many layers of the character which become even more apparent once we discover the pain and confusion Chris has encountered. His monologue about a recent tragic ordeal is perfectly delivered with a deep emotional conviction.
Christopher Haines' set design effectively portrays Alexandra's simple second story apartment sparsely filled with a few items she has collected over the years, and large, faded rectangles on the walls where the paintings that represent her past productive life once hung. Kailey Mattheisen's lighting changes subtly throughout, which aligns with the shifting tone of the play, and her sound design features some nice effects.
Eric Coble's The Velocity of Autumn is a simple yet profound analysis of a somewhat fractured parent-child relationship and how the issues of aging can bring people together. iTheatre Collaborative is presenting a superb production of a wonderful play about second chances. It is deeply moving and not be to be missed.
The Velocity of Autumn at iTheatre Collaborative runs through September 18th, 2016, with performances downtown at the Herberger Theater Center. Information for this show and upcoming productions can also be found at www.itheatreaz.org.
Written by Eric Coble
*Member, Actors' Equity Association