BWW Reviews: A Journey of 4000 MILES at the FAC
Her name was Lee Joseph. She passed away in 2013 at the age of 96, after what was in every sense of the term a full life. She hung around with the sort of people who got called before the HUAC, was married for a time to Arthur Herzog, Jr. (who co-wrote the Billie Holliday standard "God Bless the Child"), and was an activist up through the later days of her life, when she marched in Occupy Wall Street protests. And she served as the basis for Vera, the punchy nonagenarian at the center of her granddaughter Amy Herzog's play 4000 Miles, now in its Colorado debut at the Fine Arts Center.
Lee Joseph must have been quite the character, and Vera, in the hands of Front Range theatre stalwart Billie McBride, certainly is. Age has dimmed her memory but not her spirit, and she speaks and acts with the no-filter bluntness of someone who stopped worrying about what others thought of her several decades ago. She is unapologetically frank, still firmly committed to the "progressive" (read: Communist) views of her youth, and acts with an underlying current of love towards her grandson Leo (Benjamin Bonenfant). McBride's performance is pitch-perfect; every movement and stammer emerges organically from Vera's history and fire and aging body. It's one of the most simply naturalistic characterizations I can recall.
Realism is an essential component of 4000 Miles, a slice-of-life story that has Leo completing a cross-country bike trip to visit his grandmother in New York and hopefully patch up the stormy relationship with his girlfriend Bec (Rachel Baker). Other dramas and traumas have figured into Leo's journey, and these are revealed gradually in Herzog's effectively conversational dialogue. The arguments, misunderstandings, and unwavering devotion of family life are on display in a way that is never forced or obvious, at Scott Levy maintains the impression of having a direct peek into the private lives of the characters (an impression borne out by Christopher Sheley's picture-box of a set). The scenes range from moving (Leo's heartwrenching pre-dawn revelation of a tragic turn in his journey) to amusingly awkward (a hookup-gone-wrong with a party girl winningly played by Erica Erickson), but are always honest and relatable. Add a memorable turn by a local stage legend, and you can't ask for much more in the theatre.
4000 MILES plays now through April 12th at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2pm. For tickets, contact the box office at 719-634-5583 or visit csfineartscenter.org.