BWW Interviews: Playwright Amy Herzog on 4000 MILES, AFTER THE REVOLUTION, and Grandma!
Previews recently began for the LCT3 production of 4000 Miles, a new play by Amy Herzog, directed by Daniel Aukin. The final of three productions during LCt3's 2010-2011 season, the new show features the talents of Broadway veteran Gabriel Ebert and Tony winner Mary Louise Wilson. Opening night is Monday, June 20 at 6:45 pm at The Duke on 42nd Street, a New 42nd Street® project (229 West 42 Street).
Herzog also wrote After The Revolution, which just completed a run at Playwrights Horizons. Her plays have been produced or developed at the Yale School of Drama, Ensemble Studio Theater, Arena Stage, New York Stage and Film, Provincetown Playhouse and ACT in San Francisco. In this exclusive interview, Herzog chats about the evolution of the show, her all-star cast, and upcoming projects!
For those who might not know, can you give us a short summary of what 4000 Miles is about?
It's about a young man who's 21, who has just finished biking across the country- and during that trip he suffered a major loss. So he's grieving, and he shows up at his grandmother's apartment in the West Village. And the play takes place over the course of about a month, when the two of them become roommates and get to know each other in this very intense moment for him.
What inspired you to write this show?
Well, I have a cousin who lives a kind of transcendentalist, hippie kind of life. And he lost a friend about two summers ago, actually in a rafting accident. I really adore this cousin, and I was really thinking about this experience that he was going through- of being so young and suffering such a major loss. And I was also interested in just the way he's chosen to live his life kind of outside the main stream.
And then the other thing is that I have a grandmother who is in her 90's, who lives in the West Village by herself, and she has this very New York, older person's existence that I'm also really interested in. We're very close. So starting with those two characters I invented this play, which was not at all based on any events or anything like that, but it was inspired by those two people.
Those who saw 'After the Revolution,' would recognize a character in this show. What made you decide to bring Vera back?
You know, it funny because I don't really know. I don't remember making the decision to bring Vera back. I just started thinking about this younger character, Leo, who is actually named after one of the uncles in 'After the Revolution.' So for some reason I started imagining doing this cross country bike trip going west to east and then ending up at his grandmother's. So it came from that idea, but I guess the other answer is that this character Vera only had two or three scenes in 'After the Revolution' and there was more I had to say about her.
Vera is such a fantastic character, and she was so superbly written on your part, and you mentioned that she's based on your own grandmother. Tell us a little bit more about that!
My grandmother is 94 years old and she lives on West 10th Street and has been there since long before I was born. Her major passion in life if politics- she's a leftist and would probably still identify as a communist. And in her 90's she still gives leaflets in Union Square for peace. She's still an avid reader of the New York Times and the Nation. She listens to Amy Goodman all the time on WBAI. So she's still very involved politically, and it's interesting for me to be close to that and to think about how much politics have changed over the course of her lifetime and how her mode of being political is so different from my contemporary being political. I think I have a lot of admiration for her generation, and their very whole-hearted commitment to progressivism.
There are only four actors in cast- and they're all absolutely brilliant in their own ways. Are they portraying your characters as you first envisioned them?
There are always surprises, and they're usually great. I'm in love with this cast; I think all four of them are so tremendous. So of course, there always are differences. The thing is that when you start writing a character they're just words on a page, and when an actor comes in and starts working on the role it becomes this three dimensional thing that is fuller than anything you could have imagined. There are differences, but I'm just feeling like a very lucky playwright right now with these four actors.
Do you have a personal favorite moment in the show?
Probably my favorite moment would be something that I hadn't quite pictured- something that surprised me. I just love when Mary Louise just walks across the stage, often when she's not speaking. I like just watching the actors just move around the stage- those moments that aren't really scripted. That may be a weird answer! In the scene when she goes to check that Leo is still sleeping and she assumes that he is and she tiptoes back across the stage towards the laundry cart. I love the moments when these amazing actors are just involved in very naturalistic behavior, and just being very subconsciously theatrical. It's amazing what they can do.
Like pretty much all LCT3 shows, the run for 4000 Miles is pretty short. Do you know if the show has a future anywhere else?
I don't know! And I hope so, but I really have no idea. I know that we can't extend, because the Duke [Theatre] has something else after us. So I really hope people come out during these four weeks and get to see these amazing performances!
What do you want the audience to take from 4000 miles? Is there a specific message that you want people to take home?
I'm not sure. I don't usually have a message that I'm consciously trying to impart. But what do I want people to take away? I guess what I hope that people take away more than anything is texture- the texture of these relationships that immerge during the course of the play. I guess especially between Vera and Leo. I certainly wouldn't want people to leave feeling like I hit them over the head with any sort of particular message. I think I'm mostly interested in the characters and how they change over the course of the play.
What's up next for you? Do you have any new shows in the works?
I do! I have a play going up at the Yale Repertory Theatre in the fall called 'Belleville,' which is a commission I wrote for them. Anne Kauffman is directing and we are just getting to work on that. That'll be in September and October. So that's the next major thing. I'm also working on a screenplay- a romantic comedy for Castle Rock. And I'm gonna be teaching at Yale in the fall. So I'm pretty excited about all of it!
4000 Miles is the final of three productions during its 2010-2011 season. Opening night is Monday, June 20 at 6:45 pm at The Duke on 42nd Street, a New 42nd Street® project (229 West 42 Street). 4000 Miles features Greta Lee, Gabriel Ebert, Mary Louise Wilson and Zoe Winters, and will have sets by Lauren Helpern, costumes by Kaye Voyce, lighting by Japhy Weideman and sound by Ryan Rumery.
All tickets to 4000 Miles are $20 and are available at the Duke on 42nd Street box office, by visiting Dukeon42.org or by calling 646-223-3010 . For additional information on LCT3 please visit www.lct3.org.
Photo Credit: Erin Baiano