Tuesday, May 08, 2012

THEATER: 4000 Miles

Four thousand miles: that's a whole lot of distance. Almost as much, perhaps, as the distance between any two people, not just across generations -- Leo (Gabriel Ebert) shows up at his grandmother Vera's (Mary Louise Wilson's) door after going AWOL on a bike trip across America -- but across a gamut of emotional feelings, refracted through Leo's slightly unnatural feelings for his unseen adopted sister (voiced, I believe, by Greta Lee, who appears in the play as an immature, art-freak of a one-night-stand) and his almost unbearable love for his girlfriend Bec (Zoe Winters). Unlike Amy Herzog's previous work, After the Revolution (which utilized Vera in a slightly different role), 4000 Miles doesn't appear to be interested in bridging that distance, so much as in quietly acknowledging it, a task that director Daniel Aukin (This) is well-suited for.

Two scenes linger in the memory, both sharply veiled by Japhy Weideman's lighting in a way that suggests an unassailably diaphanous distance. (Credit is also due to Lauren Helpern's set, a fine warren of rooms in Vera's apartment -- and a thin slice of the hallway outside -- that emphasize the ways in which we "share" our space.) In the first, Leo and Vera sit next to one another on the autumnal equinox; having shared a joint, they blurt out truths at one another, but decline to engage and therefore remain apart. (She: "Your grandfather never did anything for me in bed." He: "Bec has kind of a weird pussy but I like it.") In the second, Leo hides in a doorframe (as if an earthquake is about to hit), revealing the freakish truth behind his best friend Micah's death. (It is no coincidence that Micah was taking pictures of his shadow at the time of the accident.) After he's done, Vera admits that she doesn't have her hearing aid in, and therefore didn't hear everything; what's important is that she didn't want to interrupt, and in this way, she's able to comfort him, to be present for him in a way that he's only just starting to come to terms with by the play's abrupt ending.

However, for all the naturalistic charm, tenderness, and sweetness of 4000 Miles, the concluding thought is that Herzog appears to have traveled largely on a treadmill. That moment of insight, of connection? It never comes, and with both Bec and Leo running away (to one degree or another) at the end of the play and with the spectre of a life-well-lived-but-also-almost-over hanging over Vera, it feels as if a second act is missing (and this in a play that's already a bit long at a hundred intermissionless minutes). The final monologue -- a sort of eulogy -- suggests that we're not meant to know everything; the catch-22 of Herzog's talented writing is that we want to.

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