Last Saturday’s opening-night performance of PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog began with Joseph Haj’s address to the audience. His voice choking with emotion, he told us that this would be his “last opening night” as producing artistic director of PlayMakers Rep. It was fitting that he spoke of the PRC community (including the audience) as a family, because we were about to be treated to a play that, in many ways, was a meditation on the theme of family. His brief speech was followed by a standing ovation.
4000 Miles is a gem of an offering. The drama revolves around the relationship between a grandmother, Vera, and her grandson, Leo, who has just completed a cross-country bicycle trip from Seattle to New York City. Leo is estranged from his family, and is struggling with some personal losses, and he finds refuge at Vera’s apartment. At first a little awkward with one another, over the few months that Leo stays with Vera, they share life stories and come to understand each other.
As an audience, we come to understand the universality of life’s struggles — as grandmother and grandson alike must deal with such things as the loss of loved ones, the search for connection, the concept of forgiveness, and the need to find a path in life. But don’t get the impression that this is nothing but heavy melodrama. Quite the contrary. There is witty dialogue, and there are plenty of belly-laughs throughout the play, many because of the spry Vera, played beautifully by stage veteran Dee Maaske. And while Schuyler Scott Mastain is a fine actor who did a very good job with the material, he seemed just a bit too old to be playing the part of a 21-year-old hippy. That said, the chemistry between these actors was authentic and believable. In addition, Mastain’s physicality was totally right for a cycling enthusiast.
Despite the 70-year difference in their ages, the disparity between their versions of the English language, and their differing grasps of technology, these two characters relate with each other beautifully. For instance: when Leo decides to prepare a eulogy for a friend of Vera’s, he googles her for the material, finding out obscure facts that Vera knew nothing about.
Then there is the scene in which the two smoke pot together. And we see him helping her with her computer and her teaching him about forgiveness. All in all, the two expand each other’s horizons.
The cast is rounded out by two young women in Leo’s life. His on-again/off-again girlfriend Bec is capably played by Arielle Yoder. The dynamic of their interactions and the glimpse we get into their history explains a lot about Leo.
Then there’s Amanda (played by Sehee Lee), a “dingbat” that Leo brings her home from a bar. It’s obvious what they both want, and it is comical to see the roadblocks rise and fall as the scene plays out. Lee and Mastain execute the scene with expert timing.
We must acknowledge the gorgeous set, created by a very talented Jan Chambers. The details of art collected throughout a lifetime, the dated but tasteful furniture — she shows us the essence of a grandmother. Chambers’ costumes are equally impressive.
Leo’s cyclist gear in the first scene is authentic right down to the shoes that he wears. Vera dresses exactly like we would expect a woman of her age and station. And Amanda’s party-girl outfit is spot-on. We were also impressed by the lighting by Xavier Pierce — by the choice to keep the onstage lamps on during the fade-outs between scenes.
The play is heavily influenced by two “ghosts.” Vera tells about her deceased husband Joe. And we learn bits and pieces about Leo’s cycling friend Micah. How different would everything have turned out if not for a certain disaster on the road?
Much of the charm in the script comes from Vera’s attitudes about aging and her own situation. She mentions a friend who is the “last of the octogenarians,” thereby signaling her own sense of impending mortality. And she and her neighbor have a system for keeping each other informed — they call each other on alternate nights to make sure the other will know “if one of us turns up our toes.” And then there’s the thing she finds most bothersome about the frailties associated with aging: “I hate not being able to find my words.”
Director Desdemona Chiang gives a great play with something for everyone. Thankfully, you don’t have to drive 4000 miles to see it.
SECOND OPINION: April 8th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/04/4000-miles-takes-viewers-on-an-emotional-journey/; April 7th Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://thefivepointsstar.com/2015/04/07/the-long-way-home-4000-miles-at-playmakers/; April 6th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article17531399.html and April 3rd mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article17011970.html; April 6th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7361; April 1st Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Sarah McQuillan: http://www.dailytarheel.com/blog/canvas/2015/04/400-miles-preview; April 1st Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/playmakers-4000-miles/Event?oid=4343601; and April 1st Chapel Hill, NC WCHL/Chapelboro interview with director Desdemona Chiang, conducted by Aaron Keck: http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/playmakers-travels-4000-miles/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the March 30th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/03/grandson-and-grandmother-find-common-ground-in-amy-herzogs-2012-obie-winner-4000-miles/.)
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), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311, email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
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/.
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.
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).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.