4000 Miles is Long on Talent at Long Wharf Theatre
By Amy J. Barry
Amy Herzog says in the program notes about her play, 4000 Miles, that it’s “about a young man who stays with his grandmother in Greenwich Village for a few weeks following a crisis. She’s an old communist, he’s a belated hippie, and they’re both dealing with grief and figuring out how to be roommates. It’s my second play about this character Vera, an old New York lefty based on my grandmother, Leepee.”
And that pretty much sums up the plot of the play, a Pulitzer Prize finalist that opened in 2011 at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center Theater starring the award-winning Mary Louise Wilson as Vera. Eric Ting directs the Long Wharf Theatre production.
Everything that happens has already happened and the play is about the time the two main characters - Micah Stock as 21-year-old Leo Joseph-Connell and Zoaunne LeRoy as Vera Joseph, his 91-year-old grandmother -- spend together in Vera’s well-worn, book-filled, rent-controlled apartment.
The production consists mostly of conversations about where the two lonely souls have been, how they see their present-day situations, and what the future holds. They have in common that they both live alternative lifestyles despite being two generations apart.
Stock is convincing and his performance moving as the young man who arrives at his grandmother’s apartment in the middle of the night having completed a cross country bicycle trip during which he witnessed the devastating death of a close friend. He’s also dealing with a break-up with his girlfriend, issues with his parents, and feelings of being lost -- even though he is now off the bike and on solid ground.
If Leo thought he’d get tea and sympathy from his grandmother, he was mistaken. Although she gives out a few hugs and shows her concern for Leo, Vera is an unsentimental character, who may not be as passionately political as she was in her younger years, but isn’t a typical little old lady either. Instead of baking for her grandson, she smokes pot with him. Instead of reminiscing about the good times with his late grandfather, she describes her lack of sexual satisfaction -- in two marriages. LeRoy plays her part as the curmudgeonly but sympathetic elderly woman with a lot of feeling and believability.
Small roles are played by Leah Karpel as Leo’s ex-girlfriend Bec, and Teresa Avia Lim as Amanda, his eccentric date.
Although Eric Ting is up to his usual spot-on direction, never getting too heavy-handed with the subtle script and although the acting is solid, the one-act play could benefit from an intermission. An hour and 45 minutes is a long time to sit through a production that is entirely dialogue driven with no action and no set changes, although Frank J. Alberino’s set design is homey and inviting, enhanced by Matt Frey’s warm lighting design and sound designer Matt Tierney’s pouring rain outside the windows.
If you’re looking for a play where characters experience huge conflicts or great epiphanies, 4000 Miles is not for you. But if you’re content with a small snapshot into the lives of everyday people with all their character flaws and weaknesses, inconsistencies and unexpected kindnesses, then you will find yourself enamored of Herzog’s newest work.
4000 Miles continues through March 16 on the Long Wharf Theatre Main Stage, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Tickets and performance times at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org
This review appeared in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com and theday.com.