4000 Miles a brilliant drama written by Amy Herzog and first produced at Lincoln Center is now on stage at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport.
The audience is greeted by a stage that has been designed to look like a well lived in Greenwich Village apartment. The apartment is occupied by Vera Joseph (played by Mia Dillon) a widow and ex-communist who has lived there for decades. The intricate design of the set immediately draws the audience into the play. At 3 am we meet Vera as she stumbles from her bedroom to answer the door. Her 20 something year old grandson Leo (played by Clay Singer) enters the scene pushing his road bike which is weighed down with heavy bike luggage. The exhausted Leo explains he has just cycled from Seattle to New York. He wanted to visit his girlfriend Bec but when she turns him away in the middle of the night, he heads to his stay with his octogenarian grandmother.
The next morning a conversation begins between these two unlikely roommates. The back story of these characters slowly introduces the audience to Vera and Leo. The revelation of who these characters are is protracted as the playwright wants to draw the audience into the apartment and into the conversation itself. Amy Herzog has crafted characters that are at once likable yet are complex.
Leo along with his friend Micah has left his home in St. Paul, Minnesota and ridden clear across the country. At the start he dips his back tire of his bike into the Pacific with the plan to dip the front tire into the Atlantic at his journey’s end. He and Micah photograph their odyssey but tragedy strikes when a truck overturns and Micah is buried under the heavy load of its cargo of chickens.
Not only is his friend killed but the camera which captured the memories of their trip is destroyed as well. Not even attending the funeral of his good friend, Leo pedals on alone trying to escape his past and his present. The playwright uses metaphors throughout the play and they are quite effective without being obvious. Finally, weighed down by his bike bags and his grief, he arrives in Greenwich Village though his trip is not complete. His overnight stay turns into a three week long voyage of self discovery with his grandmother, Vera.
As the other main character, Vera Joseph is a widow living in the same apartment for many decades. Her late husband Joe still has his name on the buzzer, and his library of books on communism and Marxism still line the shelves. Though he has been gone for 10 years, Vera stills sleeps in the same room with two twin beds where she nursed her husband in his last days. She has never returned to her own room. Her husband’s clothes still hang in the closet. She has no friends and her only contact is by phone with the woman across the hall that she never met and does not like. Vera is trapped by her past and very much alone.
The brilliance of the play is in the complex yet revealing dialogue between Leo and Vera. Sad and dramatic discourse is occasionally broken by a well timed humorous line which effectively breaks the tension. We learn Leo is intelligent though did not attend college. He is without a compass, a man-child who is always on the move. It is Vera who tries to put him back on course. Vera with the urging of Leo takes back her old persona by changing the name on the door buzzer to her own, and severing her ties with her cranky neighbor. The transformation of both characters is subtle and carefully revealed.
Bec (played by Lea Dimarchi) is Leo’s girlfriend and enters the play to inform Leo that she is breaking up with him. She delayed college for him and now she needs to move on.
Later in the play in a touching scene, Bec returns with her own bike. She is heading off to class, but gives Leo several maps for him to follow and to finally reach the end of his journey by dipping the front tire of his bike in the Atlantic. She knows he is lost and wants him to find his way. Yet another of the metaphors woven throughout the clever dialogue.
The other character in the play is Amanda (played by Phoebe Holden). Amanda is a 20 something Asian woman who Leo meets and brings back to the apartment. She is intrigued by his free spirit, hippie persona and calls him the Mountain Man. When she confronts him about the wall of books on communism, he makes light of the subject. She tells him it was communism that forced her family to flee China. Her comments and her departure help shock him into looking at the world in a more serious manner.
The play moves along to its conclusion as the audience witnesses the slow and subtle transformation of Leo and Vera as they step out of the shadows and to the light of a better persona. A serious thought provoking drama with well placed comedic lines that keep the audience engaged. It is quite the journey and the audience is along for the ride.
The play is in one act and runs 100 minutes. 4000 Miles is a story of relationships, self discovery, and the road we all can travel to becoming a better person. The play is layered with brilliant, thoughtful dialogue, fine acting, and first rate direction that draws the audience into the scene.
If you see only one drama this fall season, you must attend a performance of 4000 Miles at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Playwright Amy Herzog’s other plays include “After the Revolution” (Lilly Award), “The Great God Pan,”and“Belleville”(Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Finalist; Drama Desk Nomination). Herzog is a recipient of the Whiting Writers Award, Benjamin H. Danks Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Helen Merrill Award, Joan and Joseph Cullman Award for Extraordinary Creativity, and The New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award. She has taught playwriting at Bryn Mawr and Yale, and has an MFA from Yale School of Drama.
Directing “4000 Miles” is David Kennedy who is in his fourteenth season as Playhouse associate artistic director. He has directed Playhouse productions each season, including “The Invisible Hand,” which received the 2016 Connecticut Critics Circle (CCC) Award for Outstanding Production of a Play, and for which Kennedy won the CCC honor for Outstanding Director of a Play.
All audience members must wear a mask while inside Westport Country Playhouse. For updates on Covid-19 health and safety protocols at the Playhouse, visit https://www.westportplayhouse.org/visit/covid19safety/
For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.westportplayhouse.org, or call the box office at (203) 227-4177, toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit
Westport Country Playhouse,
25 Powers Court, Route 1, Westport Ct
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