The Velocity of Motherhood: How Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella Became Mother and Son Onstage

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03 May 2014

Estelle Parsons
Estelle Parsons

Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella talk with about playing mother and son in The Velocity of Autumn.


It was as natural a childbirth as happens in the theatre, according to Molly Smith, artistic director of D.C.'s Arena Stage and director of The Velocity of Autumn. She called up her star, Estelle Parsons, and asked whom she'd like for a son in this Eric Coble comedy.

"Without a beat, she said 'Stephen Spinella,'" reported Smith. "I said, 'Have you worked with him before?' She said, 'No, I just think he'd be right.' So then, I called Stephen and said, 'Would you be interested?' He said, 'Oh, my God, of course! I'd be honored.'"

Smith is pleased at what she wrought just by asking. "These are two actors at the highest level of their craft and abilities."

At 86 years old, Parsons plays the fast and funny Alexandra, a Molotov cocktail-packing mama teed-off by her kids' plan to put her in a rest home: She has enough explosives stashed in her Brooklyn brownstone to take out a whole block. Spinella is Chris, the wayward prodigal his siblings send home, via a second-story window, to talk her out of disaster.

"I think Stephen is a wonderful, deep, and powerful actor," said Parsons. "There was something this character needed to have, physically and in attitude. This play won't work if he looks like a leading-man type, what we used to call juveniles. I felt Molly was going in the same direction. We didn't really talk about it, but I thought Stephen — the way he's built, his whole demeanor — would be perfect. I didn't know him at all, but he just came to mind."


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