PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Velocity of Autumn — Spunk, Spark and Boom!

By Harry Haun
22 Apr 2014

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Estelle Parsons
Photo by Monica Simoes
The Velocity of Autumn started building toward Broadway from Washington, D.C., when producer Larry Kaye got the script to Molly Smith, artistic director of D.C.'s prestigious Arena Stage. "He knew this kind of play would be wonderful for her," said Coble. "She read it and said, 'Yes, it would be.' We're lucky to have Molly, honestly, because we've got these fierce fighters — Estelle and Stephen — who are willing to go in 100% — and then what you really need is a really smart, compassionate director to shape that, and that's why Molly is really drawn to it. It's been amazing just to sit in the rehearsal room and watch the three of them work."

Smith world-premiered the piece last year and fine-tuned and refined it for Broadway. With her other hand, she simultaneously helmed another world-premiere back home on Arena Stage: Camp David, a play about the 13-day peace summit that Jimmy Carter (Richard Thomas) held between the heads of Israel (Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin) and Egypt (Khaled Nahaway as Anwar Sadat). Hallie Foote co-stars as Rosalynn. It was written by a publicist for Paramount Pictures who went into politics and became White House communications director, Gerald Rafshoon. Critics greeted it warmly, but Smith had a "we'll see" answer to whether it will follow The Velocity of Autumn on to the Main Stem. She'll have to think about it.

It was, after all, the day of her Broadway debut — Coble's as well — and both learned in the afternoon that their stars wanted them to come on stage and take their curtain calls with them. "It was very sweet that they did that," Smith relayed.

Her associate director, Matt Lenz, has a new iron in the fire; April 25, at 11 AM and 3 PM, he will helm a couple of readings of Idaho, a hilarious musical spoof of Oklahoma!, at Pearl Studios.



Spinella, the other half of the cast, was unstinting in his hosannas for his co-star and her capacity for keeping the material fresh, alive and very much of the moment. "The matinee Saturday was very interesting," he noted. "We had a moment. The phone didn't ring, and we were just standing there, looking at each other. It was very intense.

"She's awesome, a complete pleasure to act with. It's like a tennis match, which is really what theatre is supposed to be about. I've learned so much working with her."

So has the 44-year-old Coble. "It's the same words," said the playwright, recognizing them. "Estelle is word perfect every single night, and yet it's different every night. I've never gotten bored because I don't know how she's going to do it, and I don't know how Stephen is going to respond and I don't know how she's going to respond to Stephen's response. The electricity of that makes the evening simply fly by for me. I'm truly wondering what's going to happen. I know what the words are going to be next, but I don't know what's going to happen next. That makes thrilling theatre!"

 Continued...