Velocity of Autumn by Eric Coble tells the tender hearted story of aging body where the mind refuses to give up and the heart desires the same freedom and independence that one is used to. When an 80 something woman confronts the reality of her age and the limitations that ages imposes on her, she is clearly aware of what is happening and how it all ends. “What the world is taking away from me, what time is taking away from me, what God is taking away from me … is me” she says.
And yet, refusing to “go gently” into the retirement home, elderly woman, Alexandra (Susan Greenhill) locks herself into her cluttered flat that has become her sanctuary. As a sign of real protest and fury, she has prepared a fight to the end by surrounding herself with bottles of molotov cocktail to dissuade anyone from thinking that they could force their will upon her, and make her leave her home. Her estranged gay son, Chris (Mark Anderson Phillips) wakes her as she is napping on a sofa, when he jumps in through the window, after climbing the tree.
As the mother son duo get into a heated battle over her moving to a safer environment in a retirement home, we learn that he is chosen by the siblings to get the mom to see the light of day because he was the son she felt closest to, but he had also gone AWOL for 20 some years. There is a lot to catch up on, from potty training and the freedom young mother experienced when her children started going to school, to their little field trips and the exhilarating feeling of racing her son up the spiral stairs of the Guggenheim museum, in New York. The conversation is funny and poignant. In sharp contrast with the woman with aching feet, scattered memory, inability to hold the paintbrush and losing friends, there is the picture of the woman racing to keep up with her young children, a woman of wit, intellect and humor, who was an artist, and had a vibrant life with friends and growing family, around her.
It is in climbing down the spiral staircase of life, as her body and mind have begun to betray her, that we hear the quiet despair in her desperate act, aimed to exercise her will to live out the final years of her life, independently and alone in her own home. In her quiet acceptance of the inevitable diminishment, as she says, “I am not me anymore, I am going to be less and less”, we hear the tragic finality of the trajectory life takes.
But then again if we only obsessed over the end then where would life reveal its majestic beauty which resides in love? And while life may end at disease and death, almost without fail, it begins in love. Susan Greenhill and Mark Anderson Phillips bring the characters to life, such that their pain becomes ours, and make them endearing that we see our parent or son in them. Kudos to the veteran casting director, Leslie Martinson and to Theatreworks for bringing yet another excellent production on stage. For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .