by Molly Smith, Artistic Director
Having The Velocity of Autumn on Broadway at the Booth Theater has been an amazing ride so far. We're at the beginning of the third week of previews and we open on April 21. Critics and Tony voters come in this week.
As many of you know from seeing the play this Fall at Arena Stage, this is Eric Coble’s story of Alexandra, a 79-year-old artist, who has barricaded herself inside her Brooklyn apartment with 100 handmade Molotov cocktails. She's threatened to blow it all up if her children try to force her into a nursing home. Her estranged son, Chris, scales the tree out front and climbs into her second story apartment, and the two of them fight their way back to each other.
The floor plan of the set is the same as it was at Arena and it sits beautifully in the Booth Theater, which is the brass ring of theaters for intimate new plays on Broadway. Eugene Lee, set designer, has added the dynamic of making the tree outside of Alexandra's house huge, almost like a canopy over the apartment — it's a beautiful metaphor for her life.
Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella are the only characters onstage and each night the play is quite different. I have never seen two actors as energetically connected as these two are. I can honestly say I've never quite experienced anything like this before — the staging remains virtually the same, but the way they play with each other changes nightly. They play different beats, bring in new responses with them — because their day is different and they dare to play it out on stage. Whatever has happened to them that day, their frustrations, joys, or thinking gets poured into the play with an immediacy that is absolutely compelling. To say that they are listening and responding to each other is an understatement. They are living and breathing these roles and the audience is part of the story. We believe them — and it's as if they are working without a net.
It's very alive and it is a joy to experience.
Each night our Lead Producers Larry Kaye and Van Dean have audience discussions and people tell stories about their own families and mothers and fathers and kids. Groups of young college students are pouring in to watch these actors and audiences of all ages fill the seats.
It's a different production than at Arena. First of all, it's been almost seven months since we closed in D.C. and there is a kind of alchemy that happens to artists when going back to an earlier work. The playing has become richer, deeper, more nuanced, perhaps because we've lived another seven months and more experience and life are revealed in the play.
Because the play takes place in Brooklyn, some of the laughter is more knowing in NY and the audience applauds immediately when Estelle/Alexandra is revealed sleeping in her chair when the curtain goes up. The booming standing ovations have been the same in both cities.
I'm living in corporate housing about a mile from 45th and 8th Avenue where the Booth is and I love walking in NY. Great restaurants on 9th Avenue and when I'm not in the theater, I'm exploring neighborhoods and seeing artist friends.
I miss the cherry blossoms, oh I miss the cherry blossoms, and family and Arena, but the experience has been a good one. Come see it if you're in NY and test your memory to see what the differences are.
We're the smallest play on Broadway with a big story to tell. And you saw it first at Arena!