4000 Miles by Amy Herzog. Directed by Eric Peterson. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"It's really cool to be so uncritical."
Four thousand miles is a long bike-trip, but for Leo Joseph-Connell it is a marker for his manhood and his independence. It was a trip he meant to take with his girlfriend Bec, his best friend Lucas and Lucas's girlfriend from Seattle to New York but due to circumstances he and Lucas set out without the girls and Leo has arrived in New York City alone. He arrives at his grandmother Vera's apartment at 3:00 in the morning, worn out emotionally and physically and it takes him most of the one-act, 96 minutes play to come to grips with everything that has happened to him during the journey, in the years leading up to it and in the vision he has of a future for himself.
This is a dramatic work with a good many laughs in it. For instance when Bec, the girl in question shows up to see him he is not ready for the realities she brings back into his life. We pop back and forth between pathos and its opposite as she tries to tell him what she feels and she can't express anything but anger. Similarly when Leo picks up a young girl and brings her back to his grandmother's apartment to sleep with her, the comic and tragic elements in his life are reversed for a spell until she realizes that his family are communists. Here the author reaches back to an earlier play "After the Revolution" and brings her family issues into play on the grander scale.
What never happens in this play, which was reportedly short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, is a reasonable ending, something that was true of the earlier play as well. Herzog clearly doesn't like to wrap things up, even on a temporary basis. She leaves things hanging; you could call her the "chad" playwright for she seems to write toward that unexplainable and far too frustrating result of a thought that cannot be completed, a vote not finished or an issue unresolvable.
This is unfortunate for she has a good sense of character and fine sense of plot. She just doesn't come to a conclusion.
Vera is played here at the Oldcastle Theatre Company production in Bennington, Vermont, by Janis Young who never makes a cliche out of the older woman in the play. Her Grandma Vera is forgetful, quixotic and delectably crude as only older women can be when they feel close to a younger person. She cries out when confronted by challenges she can't support. She holds hands, pats an arm, kisses a brow and even stares down her opponents. Young does wonderful things with Vera Joseph. She never wavers, and she never denies.
Her grandson, Leo, is played with strength and a crudeness that belies the character's background, by Andrew Krug. As an actor Krug takes on the challenges in the script, the back-and-forth relationship with Vera, head on and he comes out on top most of the time. In one scene, where they squabble over his relationship with his sister, he seemed visibly uncomfortable as an actor and not in the role, with the things he was saying. Hard to define, this shift in role-playinh was a stopper for the audience and it was something he overcame in the next moments of the play, but the change in posture, voice and eye movement (I was in the first row and he was right in front of me) were so specifically not Leo that it was disturbing.
Julie Chen was a confusing Amanda, the pick-up, but that is more the writing than anything else. A will-ya-won't kind of character, her reactions seemed to be over-played by Chen and the scene became more and more pointless as the attention focused on her character just took attention away from leo.
Bec, on the other hand, in her two scenes with Leo was wonderfully portrayed by Hannah Heller. This character is difficult to like from the get-go, but by the final minutes of her second scene Heller had shifted her into a position where like her or not, you respected her for the decisions she made and the way in which she presented them to Leo. Heller did a nice job with this character.
Director Eric Peterson finds plays that challenge everyone involved from the actors to the audience. While this one doesn't completely satisfy it does involve you from the beginning to the stopping point. His control here was fine and the resultant one-act was an engaging entertainment. It is not his fault that the play never ends; it seems that Herzog's plays just don't end. It would be nice to see how this director could elicit a better ultimatum from the writer by working closely with her. Maybe next time he'll have that chance.
Janis Young and Andrew Krug; photo: provided
Hannah Heller and Andrew Krug; photo: provided
Andrew Krug and Julie Chen; Photo: provided
4000 Miles plays at the Oldcastle Theater located at 331 Main Street in Bennington, Vermont through July 27. For information and tickets call the box office at 802-447-1267 or go on line to www.oldcastletheatre.org.