It's great to watch an actress at the top of her game.
In the two-hander play The Velocity of Autumn at Broadway's Booth Theater, this chamber piece showcases the wonderful Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella as a contentious mother and son.
Parsons' Alexandra has barricaded herself inside a Brooklyn brownstone, fearful of being shipped off to a nursing home. As insurance, she's even threatened to blow it up. Like Lear on the heath, she rages against age, time and thoughtless children. Two of her three kids are eager to dislodge her from her pricey homestead. And she's not sure if they're just eager to contact the realtor, worried about her well being, or both.
An artist still passionate about beauty, she fiercely makes the case for independence. But the only one capable of hearing her pleas is rebel son Chris (Spinella), who long ago divorced himself from the family.
Now, at the end of her life -- and at a crossroads himself -- the two stage a final confrontation. The battles between children and parents are timeless, but what this intimate story captures so well is the disconnect between the two. Her more career-oriented kids can't hear her cries for self-sufficiency; she can't appreciate their concern. But the creative, wayward son, mired in his own familial issues, will act as a catalyst. Together, they must determine what constitutes an acceptable resolution.
To see Parsons, 86, struggle to rise, or raise her fist against the inequities of age, is to witness a masterful performance. And the skillful Spinella holds his own. Directed with sensitivity by Molly Smith, Eric Coble's play isn't deep, but straightforward. It understands the pain and perplexity our loved ones can evoke. Most telling is the overarching love of beauty -- which endures long after any domestic disappointment or failing health.
Conversely, on the kid front, the New Victory Theater is staging Fluff, the creation of Australian actress Christine Johnston. Her Gingham family is lovable and quirky. Johnston, a marvelous singer with a wacky beehive who can also vocalize an array of sounds, including bird calls, and Lisa O'Neill, a kooky dancer and silent partner, rescue lost, often handmade toys, like Humpty Dumpty, Floppy and Fluff. They are joined by Peter Nelson, who helms musical/multimedia duties.
In fact, the Ginghams embark on a worldwide mission. Once the toys are found, they are bathed in love, affection, even a comfy bed all their own, part of a colorful set of odd-shaped boxes. All the lost toys get a back-story and specific musical assignments, which can double as a memory game for younger children.
The funny, imaginative production offers interaction with the engaged kids. Fluff has a subtle morale -- everything needs care -- which should play well with parents. Yet it should reassure kids -- if you lose your toys, count on the Ginghams to find them.