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For its final presentation of the 2014-15 season, PlayMakers Repertory Company has selected a Pulitzer Prize-nominee by emerging playwright Amy Herzog, 4000 Miles. The work is a 2012 OBIE Award-winner for Best New American Play. Directed by Seattle-based Desdemona Chiang, 4000 Miles brings together a 91-year-old grandmother with her 21-year-old grandson, and sparks fly as the two learn a vital lesson from each other.
The play is set in modern day New York City, in Vera’s West Side apartment. The set, designed by PRC’s Jan Chambers (who also designed the costumes), is rich and detailed, reflecting the life of a woman who has long-term ties to Manhattan. The home is substantive and nuanced, with intimate touches and warm surroundings, in multiple levels and immaculate detail. The set is lit (by Xavier Pierce) using a varied and intricate array of warm and soft lighting to depict this Manhattan rent-controlled beauty.
When Leo (Schuyler Scott Mastain) arrives inauspiciously at her door, his grandmother Vera (Dee Maaske) is sound asleep; it’s 3:00 am. At the end of a 4,000-mile trek from Seattle with all his worldly goods on his back, including his well-worn cross-country bicycle, Leo has arrived for only a one-night visit. But what was meant to be a brief encounter turns into a one-month stay, during which time we learn the intricacies of Leo’s immediate past. Vera and Leo discuss home; Leo’s addled mother, Jane; Vera’s long-departed husband, Joe; and Leo’s adopted sister, Lily. We also meet Leo’s girlfriend, Bec (Arielle Yoder), who arrives days later. In a tense and unhappy scene, Bec severs their relationship. Leo, in his usual fashion, blames Bec for planning this breakup long before the trip that brought him to New York.
The breakup does nothing to lighten Leo’s frame of mind, which has been rocked by a recent tragedy. Vera, who we learn is a very open-minded woman, attempts to understand this strange and melancholy young man who has taken up residence in her home. Slowly, as the play progresses, Vera draws Leo out.
After his breakup, Leo brings home a young artist, Amanda (Sehee Lee), in a misguided attempt to reconnect. The evening goes terribly awry, and Amanda disappears into the night. Leo is more adrift now than ever, and only the understanding of a woman more than a half-century his elder can reroute Leo in his chaotic life.
As grandmothers go, Vera is an absolute delight. Maaske brought an irrepressible youth to the character, who still moves easily about her home and runs her own errands in her old age. She has learned to be independent in a city that demands it. At ninety-one, Vera has come to accept death as a part of life, and is at peace with herself and her surroundings. It is this peace that Leo seeks in his chaotic and anchorless life.
Mastain’s Leo was adrift, both physically and mentally. Mastain presented Leo as a man who does not know where he is headed. Leo has grabbed a hold of Vera as a lifeline in his shipwreck of a life. As the play progresses, Leo is slowly brought down to a kind of peace by Vera, who finds that she has a lost soul on her doorstep. The understanding that the two arrive at over the course of a month is the meat of the play, and its evolution is controlled beautifully by these two actors.
The play is underscored by a rich tapestry of piano music designed by Robert Dagit. The music is a counterpoint to Leo’s life, awash with feeling and covering an inner core of rest and peace.
PlayMakers has brought 4000 Miles to life with humor and a sense of wonder: as these two souls find each other and grow from their relationship, a wonder at the life between the two grows. Maaske and Mastain projected this wonder together, and it filled the theater with a warm sense of wellbeing. PRC presents this encounter with the hope that grandparents and grandchildren who see this show find in it a reason to reconnect. PRC has brought a life-affirming show to the stage, and it deserves your attention.
4000 Miles continues through Sunday, April 19. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.