BWW Reviews: SCR's Splendid 4000 MILES Stirs Deep Emotions
Early on in the splendid, superbly-performed new South Coast Repertory production of Amy Herzog's play 4000 MILES-now on stage in Costa Mesa through November 17-the character of Leo, a scruffy, tattoo-emblazoned neo-hippie man-child has just woken up in the morning. He emerges from the bedroom, still yawning with bed-hair, then plops down atop an ottoman, crossing his legs to sit Indian-style on it. He looks a bit hung-over, perhaps even a bit high. But as he looks up at his grandmother, listening with a naughty smile beaming from ear to ear, his serene joy quickly becomes palpable.
His still-spry grandmother, though, doesn't notice this happy expression because, as usual, she's too busy yammering on, always intermittently searching for the right words and phrases to complete the thoughts log-jammed in her aging brain. Finally, her rant is interrupted when Leo spontaneously springs up from his seat and leaps over to surprise her grandmother with the biggest and longest of bear hugs. It's an early heartwarming scene that took me by surprise-a lovely, word-less event that smacks of affectionate authenticity.
Though inaudible, you can just feel the audience thinking aloud... "awwww."
In hindsight, that quiet, tender moment of cross-generational love ended up, at least for me, encapsulating the entire raison d'être of this beautifully-rendered, stylistically-nuanced play: that sometimes, all we really need is a silent, comforting, non-judgmental hug of a loved one to make things seem better.
Funny, intelligent, and profoundly moving, 4000 MILES takes place entirely in one room-a shockingly spacious Greenwich Village apartment designed by Ralph Funicello-yet its emotional, earnest resonance feels boundless.
Sometime after 3 in the morning, 91-year old Vera (played with sincere charm and masterful brilliance by Jenny O'Hara), is awakened by an incessant knocking on her apartment door. When she answers it, she is surprised to see her 21-year-old grandson Leo (the impressive Matt Caplan) standing there, noticeably haggard. Leo-armed only with a bike, a couple of bags, and the pungent odors and grime of outdoor life-has just arrivEd Penniless and a bit weary from spending some time on a long cross-country trek.
It doesn't take a genius to realize the troubled Leo had no where else to go, and Vera isn't about to shove her grandson out the door, especially at that ungodly hour, despite how jarring the late-night interruption may have been. With his grandmother insisting he spend the night in order to eat, get a shower and get a good night's rest, Leo happily agrees. Suddenly you see both of them take on the look of mutual relief.
As one may have expected, what was supposed to be an overnight stay soon expands to several weeks. To their delight (and, really, to ours as well), something emerges: a burgeoning caring relationship between the two. Though they seem, yes, miles apart in age, experience and worldly knowledge, the two clearly are cut from the same cloth-and, as such, perhaps understand each other more than anyone else in their respective lives, past and present.
An odd-couple cohabitation to say the least, the two do cautiously butt heads-as most family members tend to do-but seem to also relish in their mutually beneficial relationship. Vera gets to dote on someone again and in return can relay stories and have someone do the more difficult household tasks around the apartment. He, in turn, gets a stable, rent-free roof over his head, a few bucks here and there, and-most importantly-a place he can hide out from the outside world.
It's very clear to Vera-and to us-that all is not okay with young Leo.
With each subsequent vignette, the play progresses by carefully uncovering layer after layer, revealing why Leo-a seemingly independent, open-minded, easy-going nomad-has sought safe harbor in Vera's New York City home. Among the myriad of discoveries, we soon learn that something has happened in his parents' home in St. Paul, Minnesota causing him to bolt for his cross-country bike tour. And, most important of all, something also happened during that bike trip (which started in Seattle, hence the title) that has shaken Leo to the core, enough to make him retreat to Vera's like a lost puppy.
In her own way, Vera-once an active communist with very leftist views herself-wants to champion the granola-loving individual thinker her grandson has grown into; but she also knows that he is obviously quite fragile, and perhaps, just needs his grandma to make it all alright. Maybe this "temporary" arrangement is just the reset button he needs to snap out of his current shell-shocked state.