By: David Sheward
There’s potential for a moving and realistic examination of old age and family dynamics in Eric Coble’s slender one-act The Velocity of Autumn, but the playwright opts for sitcom laughs and gimmicks instead. In this predictable two-hander, 79-year-old Alexandra (a reliable Estelle Parsons) has barricaded herself in her Brooklyn brownstone, threatening to blow herself and the whole block up with improvised Molotov cocktails if her interfering children don’t stop hounding her to move into a nursing home or at least get some live-in help. (Not an unreasonable request.) Her estranged, middle-aged gay son, Chris (Stephen Spinella doing the best he can), scales the family tree, sneaks in a conveniently unlocked window, and negotiates on behalf of his siblings who are all for calling the cops on Mom.
Over the next 90 minutes, the two of them joke, rake over past hurts, reveal their darkest fears, and, of course, reconnect. Molly Smith’s direction is perfunctory. But, with a pair of pros like these, there are pleasures offered, including Parsons’s laser-like timing and delivery of senior-moment gags. "You know you’re old when you start making sound effects for your body" is a typical zinger. Even though most are right out of The Golden Girls, she makes them sound like sparkling gems. Spinella exudes compassion and handily avoids oversentimentalizing Chris’s depression. Too bad their vehicle is so rickety. Due to a lack of Tony noms (though Parsons is up for Best Actress in a Play), the show has posted it closing notice for May 4.
April 21-May 4. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 7:30 pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time 90 minutes, no intermission. $65-135. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com