BWW Review: Coachella Valley Repertory Scores Another Coup with its Production of 4000 MILES
Coachella Valley Repertory (CVRep) began and is ending its 2015-16 season with two plays about the interaction between senior citizens and younger family members. The current production, Amy Herzog's 4000 MILES, is a sweetly sentimental comedy with dramatic moments, whose brilliant direction and performances strike the perfect balance between humor and pathos.
The title refers to the bicycle trip from Seattle to New York (with lots of detours) that college-aged Leo Joseph-McConnell (Zachary Hallett) has just completed. Leo experienced a tragedy during the trip and arrives at his octagenarian grandmother's Manhattan apartment broke, broken, and disillusioned. Leo is a modern hippie and Vera, his grandmother (Ivy Jones), is the left-wing widow of a Marxist professor. She is worried about losing her memory and her friends, most of whom have already passed away. After a rocky start, as Leo's overnight visit stretches out, the two of them help each other come to terms with the ups and downs of life.
All four of the cast members - Megan Rippey plays ex-girlfriend Bec and Christine de Chavez plays potential girlfriend Amanda - turn in excellent performances. Ms. Jones and Ms. de Chavez demonstrate their considerable talent for humorous roles. They and director Ron Celona avoid the pitfall of overdoing the comedy, because both characters (especially Vera) have many serious moments. Mr. Hallett and Ms. Rippey, who essentially play completely non-comic roles, walk the fine line between keeping their performances understated and letting their characters be overpowered by the outsized characters with whom they interact.
As always in CVRep productions, the technical aspects of the show are superb. Jimmy Cuomo's set perfectly channels the Manhattan apartment of a senior citizen who sees no reason to update her home. The set is filled with prints popular in the sixties of wide-eyed children and other long since outdated art and tchotchkes. None of the colors or styles harmonize, and the set telegraphs a haimish dwelling occupied by an individual who has no interest in interior decorating. The sofa even has cushions flattened by years of use and sorely in need of replacement. Thanks to the set, we feel we know and like Vera long before she sets foot on stage. Although the play never says so explicitly, everything about Vera, from her New York intonations to her apartment to her lifelong commitment to leftwing causes telegraphs that she is Jewish, at least culturally. Audience members who fondly remember their own Jewish grandmothers will feel especially at home in Vera's apartment as she traipses around in the familiar housedresses that my own mother still wears.
The technical design is also superb. Vera's old-fashioned phone actually rings instead of plays Beethoven's ninth symphony - Vera may have a young person's heart, but not young people's love of technology. In addition to Randy Hansen's sound design, Moira Wilkie Whitaker's lighting design, too, is top-notch.
Although I thought I saw a few audience members wiping their eyes during the curtain call, I do not consider 4000 MILES to be a tearjerker - the playwright reveals the tragedy that Leo experienced during his cross-country ride long before the ending, which is, in my opinion, completely upbeat. People will not leave the theater with brilliant new philosophical revelations, but they are likely to get warm and fuzzy feelings, and will thoroughly enjoy the performances by these accomplished Equity-member actors in CVRep's top-notch production.
The rest of the crew consists of Aalsa Lee (costume design), Louise Ross (stage manager & lighting technician), Doug Morris (design associate/props), Karen Goodwin (sound technician), and Lynda Shaeps (hair and makeup).
4000 MILES will run through May 8th, with performances Wednesday through Saturday evenings, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Evening shows start at 7:30pm. Matinees start at 2:00pm.
CVRep is located in The Atrium, at 69-930 Highway 111, Suite 116, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $48 each. See the web site, www.CVRep.org, for more information, or call the box office at 760-296-2966.
Although 4000 MILES is the last play of the regular season, CVRep will present two special programs in May:
A program of Argentine tango, EARTH AND FIRE WALKING (Tierra y Fuego que Camina), starring Tomas Galvan & Gimena Herrera, Friday, May 13 at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, May 14 at 7:00 p.m., and Sunday, May 15 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets $25.
REMEMBERING HELEN HAYES WITH LOVE - A TRIBUTE FROM A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW, A fundraiser for CVRep, starring Joyce Bulifant and Roger Perry, on Wednesday, May 25 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets $75, including a reception after the performance.
Photo Credit: Sal Mistretta