Struggles with dementia in “Velocity of Autumn”

An 80-year-old Alexandra has locked herself in her Brooklyn apartment and surrounded herself with homemade Molotov cocktails. That is just the first scene of “Velocity of Autumn,” a play by Eric Coble, directed by Carol Hooper.

“The word that resonated with me the most, the first time I read the script is ‘listen’,” said Hooper, explaining that the main character, Alexandra, is desperately trying to be heard by her family. This two-person play opens July 6, at the fairgrounds’ Marie Boe Building. The show continues at that location July 7-9 and 13-16, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be bought through the San Juan Community Theatres box office. For those that need to buy tickets at the event, keep in mind only cash and checks will be accepted at the door.

Hooper caught wind of the play through a California theater group she follows. She brought it to the Community Theatre’s “Onbook” program, where it received rave reviews. Hooper became determined to put on the show. The theater was booked, so she turned to the fairgrounds, forming a partnership between the two groups.

Alexandra, an artist, has been a strong independent woman, is still physically capable and witty, resourceful enough to figure out how to make Molotov cocktails.

“She is beginning to unravel,” said Deb Langhans, who plays Alexandra. Her children take notice and decide to put her into a care facility. It is then, Alexandra shuts herself inside her apartment. Her youngest son Chris, who has been estranged from the family for 20 years, shimmies up a tree through a window in an attempt to mediate between Alexandra and his brother and sister. Langhans, whose work in elders healthcare drew her to the play, explains that Alexandra is desperately trying to be heard by family. In situations like this, Langhans said, families’ intentions are good, they want to protect their elders, however, it may not be what the individual wants, or even needs. There are different levels of care, and families should problem solve together, with their elder to find the best solution.

“Even someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s has moments where they are lucid, present. We, their loved ones need to be sure we are present for those moments,” said Langhans.

Families, Langhans explained, may use care facilities out of concern and convenience.

“The first time we witness our parents not being the people they use to be, we get scared, and want to protect them,” added Brad Fincher, who plays Chris. “We are busy ourselves, so we get someone to protect them for us.”

“Velocity of Autumn” is, according to Hooper, Langhans and Fincher, technically a comedy, both mother and son have a sense of humor. It also depicts real and heartbreaking issues of aging.

“It does a good job of representing how difficult it is, as health begins to deteriorate, for families and elders, and shows what loved ones should and should not do,” Hooper said, noting that the play is at least semi-autobiographical of the playwright.

For attendees that would like more information regarding elder care, and aging issues, resources will be available. There will also be a “talk back” session, according to Hooper, after the play for the audience to linger and ask Hooper, Langhans or Fincher questions about the play, or how to help senior citizens.

“In my work with elders I’ve found listening carefully to elders and their desires are most important,” said Langhans.

For more information, visit sjctheatre.org.

 

Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”

Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”

Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”

Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”

Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”

Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”

Staff photo/Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher, as Chris, finds a Molotov Cocktail in “Velocity of Autumn.” Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”

Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”

Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”

Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”

Staff photo/ Heather Spaulding. Brad Fincher and Deb Langhans rehearse as Chris and Alexandra in “Velocity of Autumn.”