Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
Every now and then you attend a show that has the potential to blow your socks off.
Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn at Chenango River Theatre in Greene is just such a play. The two-person, one-act comedy/drama is set in a New York brownstone that’s about to be blown up by its longtime inhabitant, who would rather set off homemade Molotov cocktails than be moved out of her home.
Alexandra, an aging but still feisty artist, free spirit and mother of three grown children, lives alone, simultaneously fighting and embracing what she has left of her memory and her memories. The autumn of her life is flying by with a speed few of us are ever prepared for.
When her least-connected child, Chris, comes from his own directionless life to see what’s up with Mom, the 75-minute (without intermission) show demands your attention. It caught me by the lapels and practically shook me, saying, ‘Listen up; this could be you one day.”
This doesn’t mean that the mom in this play is necessarily likable, or that her son is going to make any headway with her, but there’s something about this pair that makes you want to see them pull through this crisis that impacts them both so deeply.
The play explores, with the dependable devices of humor and pathos, what happens when Alexandra (Suzan Perry), in her moments of clarity, is horrified to realize that her rich, artful life is disintegrating, bit by bit, as she ages. She is more than prepared to take extreme measures to thwart her kids’ attempts to remove her from her sanctuary.
Kudos to Perry for landing the role, which is likely to join the ranks of other unforgettable characters for a mature woman (think Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Fonsia in The Gin Game). Even in 2015, parts like this are still hard to find. I hope CRT offers more such options in the future.
While Perry’s interpretation of Alexandra is strident for the first quarter of an hour, she does settle into the rhythm of her dialogue-dense, intricately layered exchanges with Chris. And a meltdown leaves her, and the audience, silent for a moment from its sheer dramatic impact.
Drew Kahl is convincing as Chris and never overplayed. As we learned in a talk-back session with the actors (both Equity professionals), visiting director Craig MacDonald and CRT’s Artistic and Managing Director, Bill Lelbach, the script is a challenging one, with many opportunities for missed or confused cues, but if that happened, nobody in the house would ever know — they are that focused.
Beside this wonderful show, there is another great reason to get out to Greene: a chance to check out the improvements in CRT’s theater. You will be impressed at the transformation of the house since last year. Outfitted with all new (to them) playhouse seats in plush teal and all new flooring, it’s a comfortable, worthy setting for the kind of theater this venue has consistently brought to the community. Support is key to keeping places like this vibrant.
IF YOU GO: The Velocity of Autumn continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 14 (no late seating). The Chenango River Theatre is at 991 State Highway 12 in Greene. Call 656-8499 (656-TIXX), or visit www.chenangorivertheatre.org for details.