Cape Playhouse's "Velocity of Autumn": Shifts Happen

David Mason & Beth Fowler in "The Velocity of Autumn"
(photo: Cape Playhouse)

The Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA, as the first offering of its 89th season, is presenting a production of the recent Broadway play, “The Velocity of Autumn”, by Eric Coble. This work is actually the last of a trilogy of plays about an elderly woman named Alexandra Benton, the first two having been “A Girl's Guide to Coffee” and “Stranded on Earth”. A ninety-minute two-hander without intermission, it's a captivating story about the challenges of aging, both for the elderly and those who attempt to deal with them. While it gets off to a somewhat wacky start, it evolves into an absorbing character study about more than aging; it's about one's values and priorities.

Alexandra (Beth Fowler) has lived in her brownstone in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn for forty-five years, and refuses to leave it despite the urgings of her children. She has essentially barricaded herself in the flat with numerous Molotov cocktails strewn around her, a lighter in hand, as she threatens to blow up the immediate world. Her long-absent son Christopher (David Mason) arrives, rather unconventionally, having climbed up her favorite tree, by a (second story) window. There is mention of an incident in a grocery store and some hostility at a bridge game, as well as her threat to blow up her home, that has led to the reappearance of the son after twenty years. What follows makes it clear that these two family members differ considerably from the other uptight members of the clan; where the others are apparently pragmatists, these two are artists and see the world from their more enlightened perspectives. They've lived apart for twenty years, but have more in common than it first appears. Alexandra delivers numerous witty one-liners, about her late husband's discomfort with his son's being gay (comparing it to his dislike for gorgonzola cheese), the accusation that “leaving is the only thing you're good at”, or “you know you're getting old when you make sound effects for your own body”. Though the funny lines are many, the most impressive scene in this work is not a comic one, but a serious one, when both reflect on the ephemeral nature of a sand painting that lives on only in one's memory, and in God's memory; the shifting sand is of course a metaphor for time slipping away.

As Directed by Skip Greer, the two actors are splendid, with Fowler's meticulous depiction of a true sense of the losses that come with aging, and Mason's believable frustration in coming to terms with his mother's stubbornness. Fowler (a two-time Tony nominee) and Mason are truly perfect foils for one another as they portray a relationship with a complicated history. The technical contributions are all fine as well, from the perfect deterioration of Alexandra's home in the Scenic Design by Nicholas Dorr, to the apt Costume Design by Christina Selian, Lighting Design by Erik Fox and Sound Design by Dan Roach.

The title of the play refers to the speed of the approach of one's final days, inevitably coming faster as they near. Each has experienced the dichotomy that comes from wanting to plant oneself in a place of one's own while longing for the chance to move on. The interpersonal dilemma reflects the interior battle going on within each of them between roots and freedom. Each taught the other how to see the beauty of the shifting sands coming together as well as the beauty of their coming apart. There's a lesson in there for all of us.

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