Westport Country Playhouse has had a stunning season so far, and that terrific work continues with Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer finalist, “4000 Miles” from 2011. David Kennedy has cast the play impeccably, and his direction, including overseeing evocative design elements, couldn’t be more clear-eyed or compassionate. A less thoughtful director might allow “4000 Miles” to become sentimental or encourage his cast to over-play the story for more laughter than Herzog’s script warrants. But Kennedy lets the characters be thorny, as written, and allows the delicate plot to unfold gradually so that the revelations—both humorous and disturbing—land.
Leo (a marvelously nuanced Clay Singer), a college-age young man who is not, by choice, in college, has been on a cross-country bike trip with his best friend Micah, but the trip becomes a disaster. Reeling, Leo hopes for comfort at his girlfriend’s apartment in New York City, but when that doesn’t work out, his only recourse is to stay with his 91-year-old grandmother, Vera Joseph (a spectacular and virtually unrecognizable Mia Dillon), until he can either get back on the road again or figure out his next move. Though he hardly knows Vera, his home—back in Minneapolis—is not an option, for reasons Herzog slowly unveils.
Singer, as Leo, doesn’t back down from the character’s arrogance and self-involvement while at the same time imbuing Leo with touching pain and confusion that he strives to hide, especially from himself. The actor’s unusually tall and lanky frame not only fits that of a serious biker but enables him to tower over his petite grandmother, and the difference in height creates a visual discomfort that mirrors the discomfort that these two virtual strangers feel when forced into close quarters.
Lea DiMarchi, as Bec, is lovely, has the strong build of an athlete, and yet is completely believable as someone who has moved past a time when she invested her self-esteem in physical prowess. Bec is now going to college despite feeling uneasy about being an older student, and DiMarchi makes it plain that Bec is on her way to adulthood, in the best sense of that term.
By contrast, we meet Amanda, a very young woman whom Leo brings back to Vera’s apartment after a party. Herzog takes a chance in introducing a character late in the play and for only one scene, but both the actor, Phoebe Holden, and the scene itself, as Kennedy directs it, light up the play. Holden’s Amanda is youthful narcissism incarnate, charmingly mercurial, and surprisingly volatile. We discover, in this one brief encounter, yet more nuances in Leo’s situation and startling nuances in Amanda’s.
Finally, we come to Mia Dillon as Vera, and here a critic is almost at a loss for words. From having seen Ms. Dillon in several previous productions, I knew that she would inhabit this character remarkably, but I was not prepared for just how poignant and irascible, funny and subtle, and, above all, heartbreakingly frustrated her Vera would be. Despite Vera’s brilliance, her political savvy, and her amazing physical condition, she is losing her hearing and her memory—and this last loss, as Dillon makes clear, is nearly more than Vera can bear, despite her fortitude.
One of the greatest strengths of this production is that neither Ms. Dillon nor Clay Singer are afraid to be dislikable at times—a trap that lesser actors can easily fall into. This means that we are able to experience the whole range of emotions towards them that Herzog has written, and that Kennedy has encouraged. As do their characters, these actors bring out the best in one another, and each performance is a tour de force.
The production values here are also of the highest quality. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set is so realistic that I might have been looking into my mother’s New York apartment. The wall of books, especially, bespeaks the life that Vera once shared with her intellectual husband. Maiko Matsushima has created costumes that beautifully enhance each character, and Amanda’s outfit—fishnet stockings, a sparkly black top, a short-short shimmery skirt, and black, clunky platform boots—is especially perfect for a young girl who “[goes] to Parson’s. . . duh.”
Carolina Ortiz Herrera has created a lighting design that clearly demarcates day and night in addition to creating a calming counterpoint to the frequent conflicts onstage. And Fitz Patton’s sound design covers scene changes with similarly soothing sounds as well as creating realistically ringing phones and offstage noises.
The play is superb—another marvelous choice for this theatre—and I doubt that a better production could be found. Don’t miss these performances and a terrific experience.
“4000 Miles” runs through September 4, 2022, at Westport Country Playhouse, in Westport, Connecticut. For information and tickets, please visit www.westportplayhouse.org.