(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle
There is an air of an impending explosion about to happen in Amy Herzog's 4000 MILES, now on stage at Dobama Theatre. Interesting, though the artillery never goes off, the 90-minute play captivates and absolutely holds attention.
4000 MILES is a companion piece to Herzog's AFTER THE REVOLUTION, a political family drama. Both scripts center on Vera Joseph, a tell-it-like-it-is 91-year old grandmother. She's a communist who has outlived two husbands and all of her friends. She lives in a rent-controlled apartment in New York, and is gradually losing it…her keys, glasses, false teeth, hearing aid, checkbook and ability to remember whether she has locked the door. What she hasn't lost is her sense of commitment to life.
As is the case with Herzog's writing, 4000 MILES is a series of character studies rather than a plot driven vehicle.
The play was developed as part of Lincoln Center's LCGT3 series, a developmental lab for new works. Intended for a short run, the 2011 production received such strong critical reviews that it was extended.
Twenty-one-year-old Leo, a self-proclaimed "hippie" arrives, unannounced, in the middle of the night, at his grandmother's New York apartment. The feisty Vera doesn't ask the obviously distraught boy many questions, but knows something is wrong. In baby steps, Leo relates that his best friend (Micah) was killed by a truck while the duo were on a 4000 mile cross-country bike trip. He also eventually tells her that his original intent to stay with his girlfriend, a student at NY university, was thwarted when she refused to allow him to move in. She, it is later revealed, was confounded that Leo did not come to Micah's funeral, but continued his bike trek alone.
Vera doesn't make many demands on the young man other than that he act like a civilized human being…taking showers, cleaning up after himself, and reporting accurately on the tap of money to which she has allowed him access. She feeds him, does his laundry, and speaks her thoughts aloud. They lightly battle, Leo continues to brood, and they reach a point of underlying affection toward each other, and live in a state of suspended harmony, smoke some pot together. and even get through Vera's interrupting a potential sexual liaison between Leo and a girl he has somehow picked up. Eventually, the big "reveal" takes place and the play comes to a quiet close.
The script's style is that of a new, modern playwright. The language is 21st century, the inclusion of technology and the differences between generations marks this as the work of a contemporary, rather than modern playwright. This is Neil LaBute and Doug Wright, not Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.
Dobama's production, under the direction of Joel Hammer, maintains our interest, though it is a little slow at times. This should correct itself as the cast adjusts to audience reactions.
Dorothy Silver, the first lady of Cleveland theatre, wears the role of Vera and becomes the woman. She doesn't portray Vera, she is Vera. Silver, as always, gives the impression that the role was written specifically for her.
Matt O'Shea (Leo) is impressive in his Dobama premiere. Like Silver, he makes the performance seem effortless.
Both Rachel Lee Kolis (Bec) and Kat Bi (Amanda) are effective as the two women in Leo's life.
Laura Carlson's set well reflects a rent-controlled Village apartment of a little old lady, complete with vintage knickknacks and dated electronics.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: 4000 MILES is a "nice" play, which gets a "nice" production at Dobama. It will not shock, it will not compel, but it will hold your attention and may take you back to examine your relationship with your grandmother and/or grandchild and share a peek at both youthful and aging angst.
4000 MILES runs through January 6 at Dobama. Call 216-932-3396 or www.dobama.org for tickets.