When was the last time you attended a play in which the opening scene involves one of the characters gaining entry into his 80-year-old mother’s Brownstone by climbing a tree and clumsily negotiating his way in through a second-story window? In Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn, opening this weekend at Raleigh Little Theatre, under the direction of Patrick Torres, the mother has barricaded herself in her apartment and is ready to defend herself with a few dozen Molotov cocktails.
It seems that Alexandra (played with intensity by veteran Raleigh actor Mary K. Rowland), a free-spirited artist, has been exhibiting more and more signs of dementia; and her two older children are determined to move her (against her will) into an institution. Her youngest child, Chris (played by RLT newcomer Landon Henry), has been out of touch with the family for 20 years; but his siblings are desperate; and they have called him in as a last-ditch effort for a peaceful resolution.
Negotiations begin with “Hi Mom,” but where will everything end? The self-barricading and the unconventional entry — are these intended as metaphors?
Scenic designer Jeannine Borzello’s set earns an “A” for the meticulously realized vision of Alexandra’s living room, as well as the hastily erected barricade of the front door (complete with a few strips of duct tape). But wait! — Make that an “A+” because of a preshow “mini-set” downstage right (visible long before the curtain opens), bathed in a pool of light. Add to that the “climbable” tree and everything else that is visible through the upstage window and Borzello earns AP credit.
In addition to the “just right” intensity of the abovementioned pool of light, lighting designer Darby Madewell’s lighting grid and ever-so-subtle cues also pass with flying colors. Sound designer Juan Isler has chosen preshow music that complements the idea of “autumn” and also prefigures the personalities of the characters that we are about to meet. And costume designer Jenny Mitchell has clothed this eccentric mother-son duo appropriately.
Through Mary Rowland’s performance, we soon know, sympathize with, and love Alexandra. The character’s love of life and her fear of loss are nothing less than stunning. And Rowland negotiates the peaks and valleys of Alexandra’s mental acuity with aplomb. (Side Note: Through makeup, movement, and voice, Rowland makes the twenty-something years of aging necessary to portray this character appear to have been effortless.)
Landon Henry’s performance is no less impressive. As the “middle-man” between mother and siblings, Chris walks a tightrope; and Henry’s portrayal of the character makes all of the nuances apparent without ever “going over the top.” Also impressive are the subtle shifts in Chris’ attitudes and perspectives as the action progresses.
The rockiness of the interaction between these two characters, of course, inevitably leads to multiple instances of the characters “talking over each other”; but each was handled with such dexterity that no information was ever buried. And that is only one bit of the plethora of evidence of the skill with which director Patrick Torres has guided his cast through the labyrinth of playwright Eric Coble’s dialogue.
Pacing and blocking, for instance, both fit like a glove. And the chemistry that Torres has coaxed into development between the characters is remarkable. Most remarkable, however, is the fact that gentle comedy constantly emerges through the seriousness of the subject matter without ever giving the impression that it is being “played for laughs.”
As the age of this country’s population increases, more and more people will have to deal with the question of “a place for mom (and/or dad)”; and The Velocity of Autumn serves to raise consciousness of the associated issues as well as the velocity with which many of us find ourselves approaching the autumn of our years.
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- It felt just a bet odd that we were able to see “through the ceiling” at the back of the stage. We found ourselves wondering whether there might have been a way to “cap” the tree and the background (at the level of the interior of the set), thereby limiting our view to the same view that the characters would see through the window.
- The playwright’s decision to have it mentioned that Chris is gay seemed a little gratuitous — the fact that is mentioned did cause us to look for that issue to somehow figure in; it does not.
The show plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Sunday, Oct. 3rd.
Thursday-night’s preview performance seemed perfectly polished; if it gets even better, the audience is in for quite a treat — we recommend it!
Eric Coble’s THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN (In Person at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17-19 and 23-26 and Sept. 30-Oct. 3), directed by Patrick Torres and starring Mary K. Rowland as Alexandra and Landon Henry as Chris (Raleigh Little Theatre in its Cantey V. Sutton Theatre in Raleigh). NOTE 1: The show’s poster features artwork by Supriya Jaya. NOTE 2: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and RLT makes assistive-listening devices available for all shows. NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26th, performance. TICKETS: $27 ($23 students and seniors 62+). Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: 919-821-3111 or firstname.lastname@example.org. PLEASE DONATE TO: Raleigh Little Theatre.
A native of North Carolina, Yvette L. Holder has studied theater at three institutions: the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute (New York), and N.C. Central University, where she received a BA in Dramatic Arts. Yvette also promotes and produces comedy theater, as well as working with playwrights around the country during the development stage of their work. She hosts a monthly play reading session: “Sips and Scripts” at Imurj in downtown Raleigh. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read Yvette and Kurt’s reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.