“The Velocity of Autumn” Closes Early

After only 22 previews and 16 regular performances, The Velocity of Autumn has shuttered its doors at the Booth Theatre.  A new play by Eric Coble and directed by Molly Smith, this two-hander starred Oscar winner Estelle Parsons and Tony winner Stephen Spinella.  It is the story of an elderly woman who threatens to blow herself up in her apartment when her children consider moving her out to a nursing home.  Though the play received mixed reviews and a Tony nomination for Estelle Parsons in the category of Best Actress in a Play, this was not enough to lure ticket buyers to the box office.

With a budget of $2.5 million, this play will surely incur a financial loss for its investors.  In its less than five weeks of performances, the highest it grosThe velocity of autumn on Broadwaysed was in its first week, with a total of $135,307 for seven performances.  Following that first week of previews, the show’s numbers dwindled at three consecutive weeks of $100,056, $94,400, and $84,521, respectively.  In its final week of eight performances, the show saw a slight increase in sales, grossing $130,333 after announcing closing.  The production struggled to spread word of mouth through offering complimentary tickets on various ticket sites, which only brought down the average ticket price to an extraordinary low.  In the five weeks of its run, this average ticket price was $39.96, $32.55, $23.54, $20.77, and $27.43, respectively.

This goes to show that it is increasingly difficult to make a straight play on Broadway profitable, especially without name recognition for the show’s title and without A-list Hollywood stars in the cast.  Although Estelle Parsons is a well-known actress whose long career includes such films as 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde (for which she received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress), as well as a role on television’s Roseanne, she is not a star for whom the public would flock to the box office.  Stephen Spinella, though a Tony winner, is hardly a household name.  Though producers would be more inclined to take a risk on a low-cost show with a small cast such as this one, it was still capitalized at $2.5 million, which is no chump change.

This is the first Broadway credit for the lead producers, Larry Kaye and HOP Theatricals.  Though its producing team also includes Broadway regulars such as Van Dean of The Broadway Consortium, their lack of experience is palpable from the fate of this attempt.  Furthermore, though Van Dean has raised money for several shows in the last handful of years, many have incurred financial losses and closed early, including Big Fish, Bonnie and Clyde, Chinglish, and Catch Me If You Can.  In order to keep the loyalty of their investors, these producers will need to find a hit among the risks they take.  Unfortunately, The Velocity of Autumn has proved to be another loss.

“The Velocity of Autumn” Begins Previews

On April 1, 2014, previews began for The Velocity of Autumn, a new play by Eric Coble that also played in the fall of 2013 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.  The Broadway transfer was originally announced for last spring, but a lack of theatre availability necessitated the delay.  The play has now found a home at the intimate 780 seat Booth Theatre, one of the smallest houses on Broadway, which will allow the subtle performances to resonate with the audience.  The two-hander stars Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella, who both received strong notices from the Washington D.C. production.  Molly Smith, the artistic director of Arena Stage, serves as the director for the play.

Estelle Parsons, lively and witty at age 86, plays 79 year-old Alexandra, who barricades herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with explosives in response to her children’s plea that she leave her home.  When her estranged yet beloved son Christopher (Stephen Spinella) climbs a tree and hops in her window, they are forced to confront the issues at the heart of their family dilemma, as well as what it means to get older.  According to reviews from the Arena Stage production, the play is not as strong as the performances, but the slightly contrived set-up evolves into a touching story as the two actors brilliantly portray their characters.

Stephen Spinella won an Obie Award last year for his moving performance in the New York Theatre Workshop production of An Iliad, and he also appeared in the Public Theater’s 2011 production of Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures.  In addition, Spinella has won two Tony Awards for his role in Kushner’s Angels in America.  Estelle Parsons has been nominated for four Tony Awards, stemming back to her first nomination in 1968 for The Seven Descents of Myrtle, and she has recently appeared on Broadway in Nice Work if You Can Get It, August: Osage County, and Good People.  Furthermore, she won an Academy Award in 1967 for her role as Blanche in Bonnie and Clyde.

The Velocity of Autumn is produced by Larry Kaye of Hop Theatricals, in addition to Van Dean of the Broadway Consortium.  As for the creative team, scenic design is by Eugene Lee, costume design is by Linda Cho, lighting design is by Howell Binkley, and sound design is by Darron L. West.  The play has had several pre-Broadway runs, with its premiere at the Boise Contemporary Theater in Idaho in April 2011, and then a follow-up April 2012 production at Cleveland’s Beck Center for the Arts in Ohio, prior to the Washington D.C. run.  The capitalization amount of the Broadway production is reported to be $2.5 million, which is fairly low for a play due to its small cast.  Though this play may still have a tough time earning profits without top Hollywood names or a recognizable title, the producers may be gearing for Tony Award nominations for its actors, both of whom are awards favorites and were praised by critics for the Arena Stage production.