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“4000 Miles” Takes Viewers on an Emotional Journey

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

From the first few lines of Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, onstage now at Playmakers Repertory Company and directed by Desdemona Chiang, it’s evident that this is a play with real characters, the kind that are so gritty and raw they practically ooze off the stage. The humorous banter between young Leo (Schuyler Scott Mastain) and his feisty grandmother Vera (Dee Maaske) immediately draws viewers in, as does the breathtakingly detailed set of Vera’s home.

The intricate set is realistic and “lived-in” down to the last touch, including plentiful books on the shelves and decorated hallways in the background. Its realism instantly creates an intimate tone, which is exactly what is needed for this very intimate play.

The fast-moving story focuses on the relationship between Leo and his grandmother and between Leo and the world in general, which has recently become muddled due to the sudden and unexpected death of a good friend on a cross-country bike trip. To escape his grief, Leo has come to stay with his communist grandmother, a woman who is a wise 91 in age but still young at heart. As she interacts with Leo over the course of his month-long stay, they are both changed for the better and eventually come to see each other as real people, despite the prodigious generation gap between them.

Herzog’s skillful script easily moves viewers through Leo’s emotional ups-and-downs without ever ringing saccharine or untrue. In fact, it is the gritty believability of the dialogue that lends this show its emotional strength. Herzog’s script deals with themes of grief, loss, and the confusion of youth, but at its heart, it is about relationships.

Obviously, the relationship that takes center stage is the constantly-developing one between Leo and Vera. Their bonding moments, which include a hilarious scene in which they smoke marijuana together and a beautifully poignant one in which Leo relates the painful story of his friend’s death- a scene that is cleverly enacted in the dark-, are emotional and gripping in a completely honest way, another feat that is rarely achieved among today’s playwrights.

Other relationships that the show touches on include Leo’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Bec (Arielle Yoder); his relationship with a would-be one-night stand Amanda (Sehee Lee), and his not-quite-kosher relationship with his adopted sister.

A gifted cast and strong staging choices make each of these relationships authentic. Mastain and Maaske have wonderful chemistry together and create quite the sweet pair. Lee is very good here too, bringing a fiery humor to her character, and Yoder creates a Bec who is both sympathetic and endearing.

The play’s ending is sudden, quick, and direct, much like the moments of humor and sensitivity that shine through in this brilliantly layered script.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents 4000 MILES at 7:30 p.m. April 8-10, 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), prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.

SHOW: http://www.playmakersrep.org/4000miles.

PRC NEWS RELEASE: http://www.playmakersrep.org/media/story.aspx?id=5dbf450d-b888-4510-8a50-7f6b6abf076d.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen. DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

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

NOTE 2: 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 3: 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 4: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 11th (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).

NOTE 5: 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.

OTHER LINKS:

4000 Miles (2011 Off-Broadway dramatic comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/499/4000-miles (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/ and http://www.lortel.org/(Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4000_Miles (Wikipedia).

Amy Herzog (Highland Park, NJ-born playwright): http://www.samuelfrench.com/author/257/amy-herzog (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_Herzog (Wikipedia).

Desdemona Chiang (Seattle/San Francisco-based PRC guest director): http://www.desdemona.org/blog/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/deschiang (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/deschiang (Twitter page), and https://www.playmakersrep.org/performances/embed_artist.aspx?id=ad0a2c66-4394-42bb-8912-1e0d94ddb44a (PlayMakers Repertory Company bio).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews