Among the many frustrating contradictions in life, perhaps one of the greatest is that we spend our lives working only to find that, no matter our efforts or desires, we will ultimately lose ourselves someday. Even when our lives are filled with something we love — be it writing, or running, or being on stage — we pursue that craft knowing that there will come a time when our bodies say, "Nope, I'm done." For most, that moment happens long before the desire wanes. The loss of agency and ability as we grow older is rightfully rage-inducing. And while aging is one of few truly universal experiences, we are provided very little cultural scripting on how to talk to about it. As a result, the topic is often ignored, euphemized, dealt with in hushed tones and behind closed doors. We are left feeling alone to process challenging questions and frustrating changes, and it is a welcome gift when we encounter a story that makes us realize our trials are in fact shared.
In The Velocity of Autumn, playwright Eric Coble provides a comedic window into one family's journey, which is both wild and wildly relatable. The action doesn't take time to warm up, jumping right into the conflict as 80-year-old Alexandra sits barricaded in her brownstone as her son Chris breaks in through the window. Returning home for the first time in 20 years, he has been tasked by his siblings with the responsibility of talking their mother out of blowing up the block with the Molotov cocktails she's assembled. As mother and son get reacquainted, negotiating with the rest of the family by phone, they explore issues of identity and agency and gain understanding of both themselves and each other. Presented without an intermission, the story unfolds in just over an hour and a half, leaving neither actors nor audience much time to catch their breath.
The story calls for high energy and a frenetic pace, with both characters, Alexandra and Chris (played by Bonnie Mesinger and Gary Bowman), on the brink as they deal with outrageous circumstances. From the outset, the stakes are high; after all, Alexandra has armed herself with dozens of handmade explosives and is committed to going down fighting. It requires a strong investment and level of confidence from the performers, especially with a cast of two. At times this falls flat and it's hard to know if this is down to pacing or simply a product of first-night jitters. The set is very open, but much of the activity plays out center stage. It would be nice to see the actors use more of the space. The script is a roller coaster ride, and the energy onstage doesn't quite manage to always reach the highs and lows. While the dialogue sometimes feels offbeat, each character has powerful moments of monologue. Chris has an especially revealing and intense moment when he finally reveals some of his own motivations, and Alexandra engages as she discusses her youth. Despite the challenges, the production overall is moving and funny. Audience members will likely see themselves and their own families in the characters on stage.
Kristin Mack directs and also provides the sound design. The set and lighting are designed by Liz Uhazy. The Velocity of Autumn continues its run through March 21 with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. There will be an additional Sunday matinee on March 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 with special Thurs. $10 pricing. For more information call 443-7688.
The Good Body by Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) opens this week with performances in a number of locations. The show, which deals with the ways body image affects women's lives, plays March 6 and 7 at 7 p.m. at the Studio Theatre at Humboldt State University. Tickets are $12. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/thegoodbodyhumboldt.
Fiddler on the Roof opens at Ferndale Repertory Theatre on March 20. This classic musical story of family and community runs through April 12. For more information call 786-5483.