Excitement filled the air as star after star poured into the Booth Theatre Monday night. Ranging from 11-year-old former “Matilda” star Milly Shapiro to 80-year-old “Sex and the City” star Lynn Cohen, entertainers of all ages were in the house to catch the kickoff of the new Eric Coble play. Opening nights oftentimes have an enthused air, but this night was slightly different. Although many in attendance were loyal supporters of two-time Tony award winner Stephen Spinella, who made up half the cast, it was the leading lady who garnered the most attention.
Estelle Parsons (who many know as Roseanne’s mom from the ’90s) commanded the stage in a way only she could. She portrays Alexandra, a hobbled 79-year-old artist who has barricaded herself inside her Brooklyn brownstone with an arsenal of homemade Molotov cocktails, threatening to blow up the building rather than be sent to a nursing home. Spinella plays her long-estranged son who comes to her rescue by climbing into her second story window. Both characters have an inherent need to flee from situations, but age is quickly catching up with Alexandra. Parsons, however, is quite the opposite at 86. “I think that there was a period of time where she felt that she needed to pull herself back a bit in terms of age,” explains first-time Broadway director Molly Smith. “She’s full of vitality.” When little Milly Shapiro and her older sister and costar Abigail were asked if they knew Parsons was over 70 years their senior, they were both shocked. “Wow, I didn’t know she was that old,” said the big sister. In fact, a lot of people found themselves picking their jaws up off the floor after they heard that. I mean, the woman won an Academy Award for “Bonnie and Clyde” back in 1968 for crying out loud.
You get a character, you just do what the character does. This is a good one, because it’s bigger than life. — Estelle Parsons
Don’t think for a second, though, that her stifled physicality handicapped her performance in any way. Parsons clarifies, “You get a character, you just do what the character does. This is a good one, because it’s bigger than life.” With her knees and back failing her, Alexandra’s need for understanding showed no weakness. As director Smith puts it, Parsons “furniture surfs” around the room for approximately 90 minutes of sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking theater. For older performers like Parsons — who still enjoys going on hiking trips — theater keeps them youthful. “Look, you gotta keep the door open as long as you can in your life,” says four-time Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh. “I swim a half-mile a day. I want to maintain my youth as best I can.” As actors get older, Feldshuh admits that the field gets thinner. “I’m in the company of phenomenal actors and I’m very grateful for it.” Because of her unrelenting drive, Parsons will most certainly receive a Tony nomination when announcements are made next week. If she gets the win, it will be her first in the almost 58 year span she has had on Broadway. Check out “The Velocity of Autumn” and your mind — much like a certain Brooklyn brownstone — might get blown.