Review: 4000 MILES is Warm, Wise and Wonderful

By: Mar. 21, 2016
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4000 MILES is a dramedy by Amy Herzog. It ran Off-Broadway 2011 - 2012, was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won the 2012 Obie for Best New American Play. The play is a affectionate look at dealing with loss, aging and love told through the relationship of a lost young man making a cross country bike trip and his 91 year old grandmother. What makes 4000 MILES interesting is the subtly incisive dialogue and the fascinating lead characters Herzog has written.

Leo Joseph-Connell (Will Douglas) has suffered a tragic loss during a cross-country bike trip and stops to visit his spunky grandmother Vera Joseph (Jennifer Underwood) in her West Village apartment. Leo starts out as a pretty unlikeable character. It is only when he reveals his reasons for avoiding his family and what the tragic loss was that happened on his journey that we begin to understand and empathize with him.

This is not the first time Herzog has written about the character of Vera. She was first introduced in Herzog's earlier play, After the Revolution. In that play, Vera is drawn as an elderly Communist / Marxist. While the character is still political in 4000 MILES, she is less dogmatic. Now she is more preoccupied with the indignities of aging and the way her ability to use words has become more difficult. For someone who was a brilliant intellectual and activist this has to be horrendous to deal with and accept. In many ways, this is a tale of the elderly teaching the young, not unlike the relationship of Harold & Maude... except for the physical relationship in the latter.

Karen Jambon has done a wonderful job directing this quiet, unassuming and very wise play. She has focused squarely on character development, interaction and subtext to marvelous effect. Ann Marie Gordon has created a lovely New York apartment set that has been nicely lit by lighting designer Patrick Anthony.

The performances here are also quite impressive. Will Douglas, as Leo, is a study in awkward distress. It was a pleasure to see his growth as a character through letting go of the baggage he was carrying. Jennifer Underwood, as Vera, was absolutely charming. She was warm, wise and wonderful. Her performance conveyed a delicate mix of rebellion and resignation showing all of the complexities, anger and tenderness of this fascinating woman.

Christine Hoang portrays Amanda, the drunken one night stand of Leo. It takes real skill to portray someone drunk on stage. Often, I see actors "acting" drunk rather than "being" drunk. Hoang hit all the notes correctly with exquisite timing delivering a memorably funny and winning performance. Andrea Flowers gives a warm and believable performance as Bec, Leo's girlfriend.

In all, 4000 MILES is a lovely look at understanding across the generational divide that will leave a warm glow inside you as you leave the theatre, feeling better about the future of humanity.

4000 MILES by Amy Herzog

Running time: Approximately One Hour and 45 Minutes with no intermission.

4000 MILES, produced by Different Stages at Howson Hall in First Unitarian Universalist Church (4700 Grover Ave., Austin, Tx.)

Mar. 11 - April 2, 2016

Thursdays - Saturdays 8:00 p.m., Sundays 5:00 pm.

Tickets are Pick Your Price: $15, $20, $25, $30. Reservations, call 512-926-6747.


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