‘4000 Miles’ at Gloucester Stage Company

05Aug14

Amy Herzog’s funny, moving take on the human condition
miles1Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, currently at the Gloucester Stage Company, deals with some deep matters, including life, death, aging, coming home and moving on. But far from weighing it down, these universal themes emerge as organically as the fruit of a community garden in Herzog’s Obie winning and Pulitzer nominated play.

When Leo enters his 91 year-old grandmother’s Manhattan apartment after ringing her buzzer at 3 a.m., it appears that the two have little in common beyond their unabashed left-wing politics. Vera’s book-strewn living room befits the digs of an aged lefty – no computer in sight, but on top of the Manhattan Yellow Pages sits the rotary dial phone that Vera uses to check in with her “pain-in-the-ass” neighbor across the hall.

carrollVera (played by Nancy E. Carroll in a performance that alone is worth the price of admission) is in fact a life-long, “card-carrying” communist who gives generously to a variety of progressive causes. Twenty-something Leo (Tom Rash) is more of a latter-day hippie, an environmentally conscious Easy Rider on Schwinn instead of a Harley, who just completed the last leg of a cross-country bicycle trip that he began with his best friend Micah in Seattle.

Along their journey, tragedy struck, sending Leo off the grid for a time, much to the worry and chagrin of his already estranged family and friends, until he finally shows up unannounced at Vera’s.

Of course, their mutual admiration of Karl Marx doesn’t stop Vera and Leo from bickering over money, of which Leo has none and Vera apparently has plenty to afford an apartment in the West Village. Vera expresses surprise that Leo showed up at her door rather than that of his girlfriend, Bec, who also lives in the city. miles2Leo admits that he went to Bec’s apartment first, but she wasn’t feeling inclined to let him stay with her.

We begin to understand why when Bec (Sarah Oakes Muirhead) later stops by Vera’s to see Leo, who is out when she arrives. While waiting for Leo, Vera regales Bec with tales of her own youthful dealings with irresponsible men. When Bec asks with irritation why Vera is telling her her life story, Vera replies that she was just “making conversation.”

When Leo shows up, the tension and friction between him and Bec is palpable as they argue about their relationship, the bike trip and Leo’s attitude towards her. She tells Leo that she’s breaking up with him.

On another night, Leo brings back to the apartment a self-admitted “pretty slutty” miles3Chinese-American girl, Amanda (Samantha Ma), which may be related to Leo’s attempt to sort out an incident from before the bike trip involving inappropriate physical contact with his own step sister, who is also Asian. It seems that incident is at least part of the reason for Leo’s estrangement from the rest of his family and why he can’t go home.

While all of this sounds very heavy, it’s important to stress that this is actually a very funny play, with some of the best lines uttered by the ancient but sharp tongued Vera. While all of the performances are strong, Nancy E. Carroll’s physical performance as the frail but feisty nonagenerian is in a class by itself.

In Vera and Leo we see two people at the opposite ends of their life journeys. But their ability to transcend the distance through words, and even small acts of heroism, brings them to a growing appreciation of each other and of the human condition that they share.

4000 Miles runs through August 17 at the Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester, MA. Show times are Wednesday though Saturday at 8 p.m.; Saturday matinees at 3 p.m.; and Sunday performances at 4 p.m. Purchase tickets online or phone the box office at 978-281-4433.

[4000 Miles, by Amy Herzog. Directed by Eric Engel. Set Design, Ryan Bates; Costume Design, Molly H. Trainer; Props Master, Joe Stallone; Lighting Designer, Russ Swift; Stage Manager, Maureen Lane.]

Photos by Gary Ng.

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