4000 MILES AT LONG WHARF
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
The relationship between a present day grandmother and her 21 Yr. old grandson is not often tackled and yet, this “All In The Family” slice of life is very familiar to many. According to playwright Amy Herzog, whose play “4000 Miles” is currently at Long Wharf Theatre, there’s a wide gap between the generations that is often amusing. However, the underlying subject matter can also be pretty sad because it’s about the demise of our own families. The kids grow up, marry, move far away, and then raise families of their own. These children and grand children are missing something -- often without realizing it. Seldom seen relatives have become strangers and their own family background is a total blank.
We find that grandson Leo’s (Micah Stock) roots have now become portable wheels (in this case a bike) and the main reason he ends up at his Grandma’s Greenwich Village Apt. is because of great need. He is estranged from his immediate family who live way out West, during this cross-country bike trip he lost his best friend in a terrible accident, and his NYC girlfriend has turned him away. Leo could use a big hug and a listener -- besides, he is out of money.
Back home, the only thing that connected Leo to his deaf grandma Vera (Zoaunne LeRoy) was her dial phone. So, he seldom called her and only remembers being at his grandfather’s funeral when he was a child. His visit is therefore an enlightening experience. Leo finds out more about his grandparents -- mainly, that despite the generation gap, they both have more in common with him than he realized. He learns that his late grandfather was altruistic, and he wrote a book expressing his opinions about the Cuban Revolution -- its educational reforms, free health care etc. This surprises Leo because he studied Karl Marx, and happens to agree with his grandfather’s writings.
He also learns that his grandma was a “progressive,” political activist in her younger days and still has fellow traveler friends. Grandma is also very caring towards him -- even if she can’t hear everything he says. In fact, she is so liberal minded and generous that she allows him free reign of her apartment -- so he freely entertains his girlfriends there. She also shows him where she keeps her household cash -- so he can “borrow?” money at will -- “…just leave me a note...so I’ll know how much you took,” she asks.
The play has some loose threads that should be cut shorter. For example, too many details about Leo’s rift with his mother and the overlong scenes featuring his two girlfriends may be interesting and funny, but do nothing to move the play forward. Leo’s asking to “borrow” $60 from his thrifty grandma in order to go wall rock climbing, says it all. The boy is simply immature and therefore insensitive towards others.
Another overlong scene calls for Leo to relate the grim details of his friend’s accident in “stage darkness.” The focus should have been on his dialogue and grandma’s startling response. However, since one could not distinguish the figures on the sofa, staring at complete darkness for so long became boring and the full effect was lost.
“4000 Miles” depicts two journeys. One is Grandma’s journey towards her life’s ending. The other journey is symbolized by the cross-country bike trip of her emotionally shattered grandson. In short, the play is about relationships and finding a pathway towards a meaningful life. Whether Herzog pulls on your emotional strings may depend on your stage of life and own experiences.
Micah Stock fits right into the role of today’s distracted and confused grandson. Zoaunne LeRoy is your typical grandma although her flaying arms and numerous word searching episodes are a bit too exaggerated. Lea Karpel and Teresa Avia Lim are certainly opposite attractions and give realistic performances as Leo’s two girlfriends.
In Long Wharf ‘s production, sensitively directed by Eric Ting, Herzog makes a general statement about loneliness, relationships, and finding one’s way through the great journey of life. But, don’t expect a powerful climax to hit you in the face. There’s a hint of a promising rainbow but digging for the pot of gold at the end of this play is like life itself -- ambiguous! To Herzog, the cultivation of succeeding generations is compared to achieving a posthumous, green thumb award for growing potted plants. Is this satisfying enough for you? Is there still a purpose for grandparents in our society? In any event, the play gives you something worthwhile to ponder.
Plays to March 16, Tickets: 203-787-4282
This review appears in “On NY & CT Theatre” March/2014