Long and Winding Road
“4,000 Miles” is the rollicking and touching kind of good time that only compelling theater can provide.by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
Playwright Amy Herzog is getting a lot of mileage out of the fact that her family of origin is diverse enough to include grandparents who were not just liberal but card-carrying members of the Communist Party when that kind of thing was pretty much frowned upon. That too was in a period well before homegrown “radicals” became disenchanted with what a sorry job the brutal regimes in the Soviet Union and China did of “spreading the wealth” among the working class that created it.
Herzog’s 2010 play, “After the Fall” examined a family’s Marxist dynamics in the form of a drama. “4,000 Miles,” now playing at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, delves specifically into the relationship between just two members of the clan and does so in a more comic, but no less, captivating manner than Herzog’s earlier drama.
Under first time director Vince Petronio’s measured tutelage, two generations of an American family come together under some very difficult circumstances. Having suffered a terrible loss on a cross-country bicycle trip, 21 year-old Leo (Brendan Macera) seeks sanctuary in the apartment of his grandmother, Vera (Paula Faber).
Set director Jennifer Mai’s rendering of Vera’s retro West Village apartment is telling, depicting beautifully the headstrong Vera’s independence and liberal politics. Books fill shelves on the walls and her vintage wallpaper, faded lace curtains and hanging portrait of Karl Marx tell you Vera has more important things to think about than interior design. She is still active and an activist; she watches out for her neighbor, both literally and figuratively.
Faber’s portrayal of the wise and wizened Vera is masterful; at 91, Vera’s memory is fading but she is as immovable as a mule, traits to which the fabulous Faber adds a good measure of humor. She is still dedicated to the ideals of socialism, but somewhat disappointed in its application as a form of government in modernity.
Leo’s intrusion is somewhat of a surprise, but not altogether unexpected because he went missing after he lost his best friend in an accident on their trek across the country. Leo’s intent is to crash for a night or two at grandma’s pad, but, as is apt to happen in the theater, circumstances dictate otherwise. A girlfriend and inertia hold him in grandma’s house.
Macera’s portrayal of Leo is exceptional; he is tolerant and solicitous but in no conscious way willing to allow Vera to manipulate him. They disagree; they fight; they smoke, laugh, reminisce and Vera faithfully keeps his secrets from the family back in Minneapolis. When Leo’s girlfriend, Becca (Valerie Westgate) shows up and dumps him, Vera is there to console him. Although Becca is a minor character, she plays a major role in Leo’s journey — from what to what is something you’ll have to see for yourself. As always, Westgate’s performance pulls you into the play and makes you part of the drama.
No less intriguing than Westgate is Alicia Dixon’s portrayal of Amanda, the sultry young Asian woman Leo hooks up with in the Village and brings back to Vera’s place for a one-night stand. Amanda is an inexplicable combination of a valley girl and a sexually liberated anti-communist whose family fled China in search of the American you-know-what. Dixon’s interpretation of Amanda is funny, outrageously sexy and at the same time quite believable. Leo strikes out when Amanda learns that Vera is a Marxist and refuses to make love to anybody in the home of a communist.
This is a play about family, about how connective tissue and family issues bind families together with something far more permanent than brick and mortar or anything physical. 2nd Story’s production of “4,000 Miles” is the rollicking and touching kind of good time that only compelling theater can provide. Get tickets while you can.