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Grandson and Grandmother Find Common Ground in Amy Herzog’s 2012 OBIE Winner “4000 Miles”

PlayMakers Repertory Company will present "4000 Miles," starring Schuyler Scott Mastain as Leo, on April 1-5, 7-12, and 14-19 in the Paul Green Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill

PlayMakers Repertory Company will present “4000 Miles,” directed by Desdemona Chiang and starring Schuyler Scott Mastain as Leo, on April 1-5, 7-12, and 14-19 in the Paul Green Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill

When tragedy forces them to share her West Village apartment for a month, a prickly 91-year-old grandmother and her grieving 21-year-old grandson initially irritate and befuddle one another, but ultimately find common ground and bridge their 21st century version of the Generation Gap, in Amy Herzog’s hilarious and heartwarming 2011 Off-Broadway dramatic comedy 4000 Miles, which is the final mainstage production in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s 2014-15 season. Seattle/San Francisco-based director Desdemona Chiang will guest-direct 4000 Miles, which will preview April 1-3, officially open on April 4th, and then run April 5, 7-12, and 14-19 in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art.

4000 Miles, which made its Off-Broadway debut on June 20, 2011 at the Duke on 42nd Street, where it ran through July 9, 2011, won the 2012 OBIE Award for Best New American Play. A subsequent revival, which ran from April 2 to July 1, 2012, was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

When the curtain rises on 4000 Miles, says Desdemona Chiang, “21-year-old Leo (Schuyler Scott Mastain) arrives on the apartment doorstep of his 91-year-old grandmother Vera (Dee Maaske), seeking solace in the middle of the night after the sudden and shocking death of his friend while on a cross-country bike trip. What was intended as a quick overnight visit turns into a month-long stay, and these two unlikely roommates become companions and confidants as they seek comfort and purpose in an aimless existence. They bond, frustrate each other, and ultimately find ways to bridge the generational gap between them before moving on to the next phases of their lives.”

Desdemona Chiang notes, “4000 Miles is a play that became nationally popular several years ago in the professional-theater community, which is when I first heard of it. I had never seen a production of it, but knew that it had a wonderful premiere in New York and a fruitful life in the regional theater.”

She adds, “I first came across Amy Herzog’s work when I was in graduate school nearly seven years ago — at the time she was an emerging presence in the field — and I found her voice to be refreshing and exciting. It’s been very exciting to see her now established as one of America’s most prominent female playwrights, and I’m honored to be directing her play at PlayMakers….

Dee Maaske (left) and Schuyler Scott Mastain play 91-year-old Vera Joseph and her 21-year-old grandson, Leo Joseph-Connell, in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of "4000 Miles" by Amy Herzog (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Dee Maaske (left) and Schuyler Scott Mastain play 91-year-old Vera Joseph and her 21-year-old grandson, Leo Joseph-Connell, in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “4000 Miles” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

“I love plays that explore family dynamics and human relationships,” says Chiang, who previously worked with PlayMakers Rep Joseph Haj on the 2012 production of The Making of a King: Henry IV & V by UNC’s professional-theater-in-residence and last summer directed Hairspray for PlayMakersSummer Youth Conservatory. Chiang adds, “It is very, very rare that we encounter a story that gives visibility and prominence to a character of Vera’s age. Americans are notoriously ageist — we usually regard the elderly as a social inconvenience and the discussion of death and dying to be uncomfortable, so oftentimes this particular demographic of people goes socially unacknowledged and ignored.

“It’s so satisfying to be working on a play that puts a 91-year-old woman at the center of the story,” says Desdemona Chiang, “fully realized, with all her strengths and weaknesses, as a whole and complete human. My own grandmother is also 91 years old, the same age as Vera. She is a petite, feisty woman who defies expectations and assumptions about her age.

“I cannot think of this play,” Chiang says, “without thinking of her, and my hope is that by the end of the show, audience members will be gathered in the lobby calling their grandmothers or their grandchildren.

Besides Dee Maaske as Vera Joseph and Schuyler Scott Mastain as Leo Joseph-Connell, the play’s cast includes Sehee Lee as Amanda and Arielle Yoder as Bec.

In addition to director Desdemona Chiang and PRC producing artistic director Joe Haj, the creative team for 4000 Miles includes production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic and costume designer Jan Chambers, lighting designer Xavier Pierce, sound designer Robert Dagit, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coach Craig Turner, dramaturg Jiayun Zhuang, stage manager Charles K. Bayang, and assistant stage manager Sarah Smiley.

Arielle Yoder (left) plays Bec and Schuyler Scott Mastain plays Leo in "4000 Miles" by Amy Herzog (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Arielle Yoder (left) plays Bec and Schuyler Scott Mastain plays Leo (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Director Desdemona Chiang says, “4000 Miles takes place in Vera’s apartment in the West Village of Manhattan. It is a single unit set, fully dressed, with details that reflect Vera’s intellectual/political life and experiences. Our set reflects the behavioral life of the play, and one of the things that scenic designer Jan Chambers and I gave a lot of thought to was Vera’s day-to-day life. The placement of furniture, books, dishes, and other household items are very deliberate, and speak volumes about the kinds of life patterns she has developed over the years, and how that pattern gets disrupted (in both good and bad ways) when Leo arrives.”

She adds, “The lighting for 4000 Miles is primarily naturalistic. Lighting will be used to illuminate time of day [and] the passing of time, and assist with atmosphere and tone. Lighting designer Xavier Pierce and I plan to use lighting to help establish rhythms and the storytelling inside transitions in between scenes. We will also use practical lighting (desk lamps, floor lamps, etc.) onstage, to give a sense of intimacy and mood….

“The costumes for 4000 Miles will be in modern dress,” Chiang says. “Vera is dressed simply and practically, in pieces that are comfortable, soft, and flowing. Leo, as a neo-hippie and bicyclist, is dressed casually and in sports attire. The clothing will provide contrast in the two characters’ tastes and personalities.”

She adds, “4000 Miles is a play that is deceptively simple. It is a sweet, funny, and poignant story of two people who, as a result of an unexpected tragedy, find themselves connected and changed forever. We live in a world today that unrelentingly urges us forward — louder, faster, brighter — and we often overlook and neglect what is simple. We lose sight of details, intricacies, and life’s little moments.

“In the theater,” says director Desdemona Chiang, “we often try to make the bright flashy thing, the big social statement, or the jazz-hands dance number. There is nothing of that magnitude or scale in this production, so the big challenge is to find a way for this small intimate show to fill the entirety of the Paul Green Theatre. This show will be about nuance and detail, a return to simplicity, and a focus on acting, moments, deep relationship work, and fully realized people. It is through this very lens in which 4000 Miles is both ordinary and utterly exceptional — a play that doesn’t set out to change the world, yet the worlds of these two individuals are irrevocably changed.”

Sehee Lee (left) and Schuyler Scott Mastain play Amanda and Leo in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of Amy Herzog's "4000 Miles" (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Sehee Lee (left) and Schuyler Scott Mastain play Amanda and Leo in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog (photo by Jon Gardiner)

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents 4000 MILES at 7:30 p.m. April 1-3 Previews, 7:30 p.m. April 4 Opening Night, 2 p.m. April 5, 7:30 p.m. April 7-10, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 11, 2 p.m. April 12, 7:30 p.m. April 14-18, and 2 p.m. April 19 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15 and up. Click here for special ticket prices for UNC students, other college students), UNC faculty and staff, and U.S. military personnel and their immediate families.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY (7529),, or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311,, or



PRESENTER:,,,, and

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage):


NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be an All-Access Performance performance, with sign-language interpretation and audio description by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7th.

NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 8th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 12th, performances.

NOTE 4: The UNC General Alumni Association will host An Evening at PlayMakers, starting at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 10th, with a preshow reception and conversation with the show’s artistic staff and continuing with the 7:30 p.m. performance of 4000 Miles. The cost is $40 for GAA members and $60 for the general public. To register, telephone 919-843-0790 or click here.

NOTE 5: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 11th (for more information, click

NOTE 6: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 18th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 19th, performances.


4000 Miles (2011 Off-Broadway dramatic comedy): (Samuel French, Inc.), and Off-Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Amy Herzog (Highland Park, NJ-born playwright): (Samuel French, Inc.), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Desdemona Chiang (Seattle/San Francisco-based PRC guest director): (official website), (Facebook page), and (Twitter page), and (PlayMakers Repertory Company bio).


Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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