Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Velocity of Autumn

Also see Susan's review of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Stephen Spinella and Estelle Parsons
More and more people are living longer, and more and more of those people's relatives and friends have to deal with questions of competency and independence. The indomitable Estelle Parsons and the deeply sympathetic Stephen Spinella ably bring to life an extreme version of this dynamic in The Velocity of Autumn, now at the Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage in Washington.

The title of Eric Coble's play refers to the sense that time moves faster as a person grows older. Alexandra (Parsons), a 79-year-old painter, has lived for years in her Brooklyn brownstone, but now her children think it's time that she sold the house and moved to a care facility. Alexandra is determined to die in her own home, and she's barricaded the door and loaded the second-floor living room with Molotov cocktails (her late husband was a photographer, so she had flammable chemicals readily available) so she may take the entire block with her.

Darron L. West's compelling sound design immediately plunges the audience into the chaos of what might happen: explosions, bursts of fire, followed by the sirens of fire engines and ambulances. Then the lights come up on Eugene Lee's as-yet undetonated living room set where Alexandra reclines in an upholstered chair, listening to classical music. (The audience is in the room with her: the front-row seats are on sofas.)

Chris (Spinella), the youngest of Alexandra's three children and the only one to become an artist himself, hauls himself up a tree adjacent to the room's large window and stumbles inside. The rest of the drama encapsulates the tensions and enduring bonds of family: what drove Chris to isolate himself in New Mexico far from the rest of his family and what forced him to come back; Alexandra's general lucidity and her flashes of terrifying vagueness.

Parsons, an elegant figure in a bright dress, and Spinella, ponytailed and drawn-faced, are a well matched pair, especially as directed fluidly and naturally by Molly Smith. Over the course of 90 minutes with no intermission, they play cat and mouse, consider each other's point of view, and reach a possibly surprising conclusion.

Arena Stage
The Velocity of Autumn
September 6th - October 20th
By Eric Coble
Alexandra: Estelle Parsons
Chris: Stephen Spinella
Directed by Molly Smith
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW Washington, DC Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

Photo: Teresa Wood

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