by Macey Levin
Leo has cycled across the United States from Washington State, with several side jaunts, finally to arrive at his Grandma Vera’s apartment in Manhattan. Amy Herzog’s gentle play 4000 Miles, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2013, currently at Shakespeare & Co.’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, examines the relationship of these two people who have family bonds but are light-years away from each other due to their generational disparities. These differences in attitudes and life experiences are key to the thematic statements of this terrific production.
The eighty-something-year-old Vera (Annette Miller) has lived her life in New York City where she and her late husband Joe were political lefties; Leo (Gregory Boover) is a philosophical lefty who is also a vegan, an environmentalist… and all those things one would expect of a twenty-something-year-old who doesn’t know who he is or what he wants to do with his life. The two parry, hug, laugh and argue about small things and then confide in each other about big things. Most importantly, they help each other. Vera sets Leo on a path to maturity; Leo gives Vera a newly-found respect for herself.
The characters roll through a series of mini-crises and a couple of blow-ups, some dealing with Leo’s love/hate relationship with his mother, whom he calls Jane; a problem that has arisen between him and his adopted Chinese sister; Vera’s missing checkbook and more. None of the various situations causes grave conflict, but the two gain insight into each other and themselves.
The most intense dispute arrives in the person of Bec (Emma Geer) Leo’s sometimes girl friend. Having reunited at the end of his trip she has found that their lives are taking different paths and that she has outgrown him. Though they still love each other she feels compelled to break up because she is preparing to live a constructive life while he continues to avoid decisions.
Herzog’s dialogue is realistic delineating the vast age differences. The conversations and comments of the younger people, including Amanda (Zoe Laiz) a young woman Leo has picked up, are peppered with profanities and contemporary idioms… “That’s cool!” Vera’s syntax is that of an aging lifelong city dweller from a, more mannerly time. Every speech, every word rings true.
The structure of the play is somewhat episodic; there is no dramatic arc leading to a charged climax. A number of the scenes are very funny or poignant or dramatic and are one-act plays unto themselves. At one point Leo and Vera talk about their sex lives while getting stoned. In another, Leo describes the death of his best friend Micah in a beautifully constructed and delivered monologue, only to be capped off by an ironically comic line from Vera.
The acting, under the sensitive direction of Nicole Ricciardi, is absolutely wonderful. Boover, one of S&C’s many young talents, commands the stage imbuing Leo with vulnerability and confusion. His comic delivery and more subtle moments are delivered with a veteran actor’s finesse. Miller, a long time member of the acting company, captures the idiosyncratic Vera with her very “Noo Yawk” dialect and flailing hands as she looks for the words that will help her complete her thoughts. It is a performance of great energy and insight. Geer has a strong stage presence but her work is subtly effective. She shows her emotions with expressive eyes and simple gestures. Laiz controls one of the funniest scenes in the play. Her Amanda is almost bigger-than-life and thoroughly charming.
The production is skillfully directed by Ricciardi. She does not allow the more sentimental moments from becoming maudlin or over-acted. Her cast gives life to the characters making them believable and letting you know that you know them. The staging is economical without wasted movement or extensive time for scene changes, which is the responsibility of the actors. Most important, her cast maintains the pace of the individual scenes so that, though disparate in tone, are all part of a unified whole.
John McDermott’s set is redolent of an 80-plus-year-old woman living in an apartment that hasn’t seen any changes in years. The costumes by Stella Schwartz define the characters’ ages while James w. Bilonski’s lighting is effective especially enhancing Leo’s Micah monologue.
This 4000 Miles is a thought-provoking and genuinely entertaining play.
Shakespeare & Company presents 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog; Directed by Nicole Ricciardi; Cast: Gregory Boover (Leo) Annette Miller (Vera) Emma Geer (Bec) Zoe Laiz (Amanda); Scene design: John McDermott; Lighting design: James W. Bilonski; Costume design: Stella Schwartz; Sound design: Amy Altadonna; Stage Manager: Fran Rubenstein; Running Time: Ninety minutes; no intermission; Shakespeare & Co.’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, MA; From 5/25/2017 – 7/16/2017