AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Eric Coble
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
Presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro St., Mountain View, CA / (650) 463-1960

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Growing old isn't for sissies.

That saying might come to mind during TheatreWorks' regional premiere of Eric Coble's "The Velocity of Autumn."

The person growing old here is no sissy. Quite the opposite.

Alexandra (Susan Greenhill) is a 79-year-old widow determined to live out her life in her Brooklyn home in 2006. Because of her arthritis and early dementia, though, two of her adult children, both New Yorkers, want her to move to a nursing home, a thought she vehemently opposes.

Therefore, she has barricaded herself in the second-floor apartment of the brownstone she owns, duct-taping the doors and piling furniture in front of them.

Moreover, she has placed homemade Molotov cocktails throughout the apartment and threatens to blow up herself, her building and the entire block if thwarted.

Hoping to dissuade her, her two New York children summon their younger brother, 40-something Chris (Mark Anderson Phillips), to come home from New Mexico after a 20-year absence and estrangement. The only way he can get into her home is to climb the tree in front and tumble through a window in the living room.

Thus begins a 90-minute, intermissionless dialogue as the two of them gradually reach some rapprochement. He and his mother are both artists, and, perhaps because he's gay, he seems more capable than his siblings of understanding her desire to determine how she lives her life and how it ends.

Despite the serious subject, the show is laced with humor, and some of the plot is predictable.

Directed by Giovanna Sardelli, the two actors carefully reveal their characters' emotions and motivations as they share memories and describe experiences.

The set by Andrew Boyce, costumes by Jill C. Bowers, lighting by Steven B Mannshardt and sound by Brendan Aanes add authenticity to the time and place.

In his program notes, TheatreWorks artistic director Robert Kelley says that the playwright "understands how the bewildering spring of youth and lingering summer of adulthood can give way in a moment to the surprising velocity of autumn."

Anyone who has experience with aging relatives or with their own aging will likely find parts of this play relevant to that experience.

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