Review of 4000 Miles
By Amy Herzog
Directed by Norman A. Hall
For tickets / schedule :
NTC Playhouse, Novato, CA
Novato Theater Company
RUN: March 25 – April 17, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars
(March 25, 2016)
Premiering in 2011, this is a recent play from Amy Herzog, and is inspired by her family. Long distance bike trips and hiking have become the rage among athletic young people, carrying with them sets of evolving traditions, such as dipping tires in the ocean or taking shadow pictures, as referenced by Leo (Jesse Lumb). Tragedy strikes his journey with Mika, who is killed in an accident. Lost and stricken with sorrow, Leo drifts toward his opinionated grandmother, Vera (Shirley Nilsen Hall). An unlikely friendship ensues, punctuated by Leo’s half-attempted quests for love.
Shirley Nilsen Hall as Vera embodies the physicality of being elderly. Her trembling efforts to fold laundry or open a locked door are heart-breaking, showing both her determination to keep living to the fullest and the insensitivity of the younger generation to step in and help. Leo lounges on the couch while she fumbles and drops the keys, unwilling to take a few steps to open the door for her. Undaunted, she is ready to both challenge and support him to the best of her ability. Ultimately the story is about the close bonds of family, no matter how different they are from each other. Jesse Lumb as Leo has an ease about him, covering pent up bursts of anger that are misplaced expressions of sorrow over Mika’s loss. His midnight reminiscence of Mika’s death is quietly moving, punctuated by well timed dark humor.
On-and-off girlfriend Bec (Emily Radosevich) fights between her attraction to Leo and a practicality that they do not work well together. After a passionate series of debates, the two part amicably, perhaps wondering what could have been. Representative of an odd sub-plot, Amanda (Courtney Yuen) enthusiastically bounces into the story, giving Leo the push he needed to move on with his life, stepping in as a sort of sister figure.
The language of 4000 Miles is conversational and natural; it could be heard in a living room rather than a theatre. Characters are brutal and loving to each other, often self-absorbed and realistic. Unfortunately the denouement is not satisfactory; it is too neatly packaged and convenient for a play about messy lives. At the same time it is comforting to have a hopeful ending for characters who have suffered.
Journey with a young person struggling to find meaning and his place in life, helped along by the family’s matriarch who has already discovered her confidence. 4000 Miles is a comforting coming of age story about the importance of family, even if they can be irritating at times. It is well researched with high production values and a stellar cast.