By Daniel Skora
Sometimes the question of what to do with mother when she’s at that age when everyone believes she needs the kind of care that only a retirement home can provide is offset by the question of how do you handle the children when you’re totally able to care for yourself and you actually like living alone.
The Matrix Theatre Company is presenting “The Velocity of Autumn”, a drama liberally sprinkled with light comedy which deals with those very questions. Alexandra (Jane MacFarlane) lives alone in her two-story Brooklyn apartment. She’s artistic, articulate and not at all amenable to taking orders from others. At 79, her “kids” think it’s time for her to move out and move in to a place where she can properly be taken care of. Two of her kids, in fact, anxiously wait outside her apartment, unable to enter because Alexandra has barricaded herself in. And she’s done a rather thorough job of that, making Molotov cocktails out of photo developing fluid and threatening to blow up the whole apartment complex if anyone dares to enter.
But someone does. Her son Chris (Chris Korte), who has been put upon by his siblings to talk their mother out of her home, has climbed the Dutch Elm that overlooks the apartment’s second story window. It’s the fall season and the leaves of the elm are decked out in beautiful autumnal colors. It’s those golden leaves and the speed at which Alexandra’s golden years have arrived that give the play its title.
Chris is the youngest of the three siblings. He’s gay, he’s artistic like his mother, and the two haven’t seen each other in twenty years. Chris has been given one hour to talk mother out of her home before the others call the police. What transpires in that hour has mother and son rekindling their relationship and reminiscing about the past. But Alexandra is determined to hold her ground and Chris seems dedicated to the task of bringing his mother out. How the standoff will finally play out provides the tension in this 90 minute without intermission play.
“The Velocity of Autumn” opened on Broadway in 2014 to what turned out to be a very short run. The Matrix version is an entertaining production that holds your interest from beginning to end. Director David Wolber has cast well with Macfarlane and Korte, who have good chemistry together as a mother and son who never realized they had so much in common. MacFarlane draws the meatier part of the script, for this is Alexandra’s apartment and this crisis concerns her future. Alexandra is both interesting and introspective. Though she’s a bit crusty on the surface, there’s a warmth and a sensitivity that radiates from beneath.
A crisis of another sort occurred that had The Matrix scrambling to re-block the action of the play. A week before opening, MacFarlane fractured her kneecap. Though that got her confined to a wheelchair, and as so she plays the part, you would be hard pressed to notice where modifications have been made. Being in a wheelchair does, in fact, validate both of the play’s contentions: the children’s, that their mother needs care that she can’t get at home, and Alexandra’s, that she is thoroughly able to take care of herself even in the condition she’s in.
The set design by Christina Killmar works well in the lengthy rectangle of the Matrix stage. The sofa at one end would have undoubtedly gotten more use had Alexandra been able to walk. The door that leads out of the apartment is not only duct-taped and reinforced by chairs, it’s surrounded by jars and jars of Molotov cocktails. Props are by Megan Buckley-Ball, lighting is by Amy Schneider, and set construction is by Joe Miller.
“The Velocity of Autumn” shows that no family divide is ever too great to conquer. The lovely woman who is at its center will warm your heart and might even make you think of someone you love who may now or sometime in the future find themselves in similar circumstances. The show runs through December 13th. Tickets are available online at www.matrixtheatre.org or by calling the box office at 313.967.0599. Matrix Theatre is located at 2730 Bagley, a stone’s throw away from downtown Detroit. The Matrix Theatre Company is currently celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season. You can check out their 2015/16 season HERE.