Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Theater Review: 4,000 Miles -- Long Wharf

Zoaunne LeRoy and Micah Stock in 4000 Miles, photo by T. Charles Erickson
Miles of Distance, Understanding Covered in Moving Slice-of-Life Play
By Lauren Yarger
Distances between coasts, age, philosophy and death all become traveling companions in Amy Herzog’s sweet slice-of-life story about a young man and his grandmother in 4,000 Miles, getting a run at Long Wharf.

College-age Leo (Micha Stock) arrives unexpectedly in the middle of the night at the New York apartment of his grandmother, Vera (Zouanne Leroy). The two haven’t seen each other in years, and it’s unclear exactly why Leo has stopped by at the end of his cross-country biking trip, but one thing is certain: he needs a shower.

“You smell,” his blunt-talking, feisty grandmother tells him as she hands him a set of keys and lends him some money. It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

She agrees not to tell Leo’s estranged mother he’s there, even though the family has been worried since he didn’t show up for the funeral of his friend, Micah, who died while accompanying him on the cross-country journey. Leo is pretty tightlipped about how he feels about anything, including the end of his relationship with girlfriend, Bec (Leah Karpel).

He settles into the rent-controlled apartment that hasn’t been redecorated since the ‘60s (set design by Frank J. Alberino) and tries to be patient living with a grandmother who can’t hear well without her hearing aid and who is very plainspoken – when she can remember the words she’s trying to say. They find some common ground in Vera’s communist beliefs, and the 91-year-old starts to hope Leo will stay around, making her daily check-in-that-we’re-still-alive phone calls with another crotchety neighbor unnecessary.

He’s not willing to commit, however, and grows agitated when Vera complains about his moving things out of place in the apartment. She also interrupts a late-night rendezvous Leo has with one-night-stand Amanda (Teresa Avia Lim). The Asian party girl reminds him of his adopted sister, Lily, with whom he shared a kiss that haunts him still and contributes further to his depressed state.

As grandmother and grandson grow closer, he finally opens up and shares the details of Micah’s accident – with riotous results. The scene, however, is staged in almost total darkness, and misses some effect. Herzog’s script calls for darkness, but the lighting here (designed by Matt Frey) almost looks like a malfunction, as if the control board isn’t operating correctly leaving the audience listening to and extended voiceover in the black and missing a touching part of the staging directed by Eric Ting.

The story manages to be moving and sweet, despite the fact that Leo isn’t a very likable character. There seems to be hope, despite distances between miles, cultures, philosophies and years.

The actors all give strong performances and the audience feels as though it has been eavesdropping on a slice of life while watching through a secret window into the apartment. Ting’s tight direction keeps the dialogue, not linked by any great plot actions, from wandering. And Leroy is just so adorable you want to go up on stage, give her a big hug and ask whether she’ll be your adopted grandma.

You can journey over to see 4,000 Miles at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven, through March 16. Tickets are $40-$75. 203-787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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