Amy Herzog’s superior brand of playwriting is on clear, precise display in Shakespeare & Company's wonderful production of her 2012 Obie-Award winning play, 4000 MILES. Pity more contemporary writers don’t follow Herzog’s playbook: each character is fully realized and something happens in each scene. (I’m not trying to be a wiseass: just think of how INactive so many current plays are). Overall, composition is economic. Conflict identified and addressed. Simple, right?
In 4000 MILES, 21-year old Leo (Gregory Boover) concludes a cross-county bike trek by paying a surprise, middle-of the-night visit to the Manhattan apartment of his 90-something grandmother, Vera (Annette Miller), a feisty Leftie and lifelong New Yorker. The tile is metaphor for the huge differences between them, which are difficult to bridge given Vera’s own unresolved relationship with Leo’s mother, her stepdaughter actually, and Leo’s own family baggage. What’s more, Leo is traumatized by a personal tragedy he experienced in his travel.
Director Nicole Ricciardi gives the actors the space to inhabit their roles, which they do with near perfection. Veteran actor Annette Miller by mannerisms, movements, voice and accent makes Vera alive from her first appearance in the wee hours - night-gowned, shuffling in slippers, hands clasped over mouth (dentures out). Mr. Boover nimbly suggests an immature man of spoiled upbringing who hasn’t yet developed the emotional resources to deal with life’s reality. Emma Geer as Leo’s young girlfriend conveys quietly her own emotional puzzlement about Leo’s predicament with the right, subtle notes. Zoe Laiz, in one hilarious scene, as Leo’s Chinese-American (would be) hook up, reveals - besides impeccable comic timing - mature acting judgment (and taking good direction I suspect) not to a ham-up a small role that could easily imbalance the delicate mood of the play.
The set by John McDermott, in the intimate Bernstein Theatre, optimizes stage movement, even though it could have had a little more texture for a rent-controlled apartment occupied for sixty years. No matter. 4000 MILES is a little gem that gently reminds us that it’s possible to make connection small and large for life to have meaning. Herzog tells that through old fashioned basics like real characters and solid story-telling. We need more of this kind of playwriting.
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