In the course of a lifetime, a person can collect quite a few contradictions. Over time these contradictions begin to look like psychoses to the outside world. Perhaps true madness is just a matter of living long enough. In Tandem Theatre explores a little bit of this in Eric Coble’s two-person drama The Velocity of Autumn. In Tandems intimate stage plays host to a man and his aging mother. She’s barricaded herself in her home. He’s gone out of his way to try to see her. If he can’t talk some sense into her, his siblings are going to call the police. He’s only got a limited amount of time in a taut psychological drama that runs the course of less than 90 minutes without intermission.
Angela Iannone plays Alexandra. She’s determined that she will die in her home...even if that means causing her own destruction. (The play takes place in a room filled with jars of highly flammable liquid which could be weaponized at any moment.) Iannone manages the delicate line between hostility and insanity with the kind of careful poise one would expect from the actress. She carries great precision throughout the drama. The feels a bit out of place where the character begins to realize that her memories aren’t entirely intact. Iannone’s precision lends Alexandra a deft mastery over her own fading memories that makes for an interesting performance.
Steven Marzolf makes his entrance by climbing through a window. (He’s playing her son--a character who knows enough to know that the one window she wouldn’t lock would be the one next to her favorite tree.) Marzolf balances concern and love against anger and frustration in the role of a son confronting his mother regarding a breakdown that could well become fatal. In his interaction with her, it is revealed that there’s an artistic iconoclasm which is complicating matters. He may be as interested to know why she has taken down all of her paintings as he is about all of the jars of film developing fluid that line the room.
Chris Flieller directs the show with careful attention to the unique 2/3 semi-thrust stage at the 10th Street Theatre. As gripping as. a conversation between two characters can be, it can all feel pretty flat without the direction that feels both emotionally authentic and dynamic. The delicate nuances of this can be particularly difficult in a show that balances between familial love, malice and madness. Having worked in the space for a number of years, Flieller knows what works best with the space and runs with it. It’s kind of easy to overlook in a theatre market with as many small stages as Milwaukee, but it’s always so fascinating to see a show on a small stage that’s directed by someone with an intimate understanding of every angle having worked in and developed the space over many years.
Steve Barnes does a really good job on scenic design. A single-location two-person drama gives an audience plenty of time to look around. The challenge here was to develop a set that looks clean, lived-in AND beset with the onset of madness. Alexandra has only started the process of living in total isolation, but Barnes throws-in enough details that suggest a relatively stable past that’s beginning to become cluttered with hostility. The world outside the window feels bright and bustling thanks to clever work by lighting designer Holly Blomquist and Jonathon Leubner’s atmospheric soundscape of a very active New York that Alexandra could so easily interact with if only she’d open the door.
In Tandem Theatre’s production of The Velocity of Autumn runs through March 17th at the Tenth Street Theatre on 628 N. 10th St. For ticket reservations, call 414-271-1371 or visit In Tandem online.