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Saturday, 19 January 2013 18:24

Unsentimental journey: '4000 Miles' at the Rep

Written by Chuck Lavazzi
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The Details

L to R: Rita Gardner as Vera and Dan McCabe as Leo
L to R: Rita Gardner as Vera and Dan McCabe as Leo repstl.org / Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Like its protagonist, Amy Herzog’s comedy/drama “4000 Miles” seems a bit aimless and not really sure of what it wants to be. The cast does fine work and the technical aspects are, as usual, exemplary, but ultimately the emotional stakes in the script aren't high enough to make it more than moderately interesting.

Like so many recent plays, in fact, this seems to be not so much a stage vehicle as an apprentice TV movie, comprising many short scenes and having a ninety minute run time.

As the play opens it’s 3 AM and 21-year-old Leo (Dan McCabe) has just popped up at the Greenwich Village apartment of his 91-year-old grandmother Vera (Rita Gardner). He’s dirty, disheveled, and exhausted, having just biked 4000 miles across the country. Vera is baffled by Leo’s refusal to communicate with the rest of his family, but she offers him a shower, the spare bedroom, and a chance to talk. Over the course of the next several days, Leo is dumped by his girlfriend Bec (Katie McClellan), attempts an unsuccessful one-night stand with party girl Amanda (Lisa Helmi Johanson), and commiserates with Vera over the trials of growing old, including the loss of old friends and, as she puts it, “losing the words for things.”

We eventually learn of the traumatic event that marred Leo’s trip and there’s a moment at the end of the play that slightly softens his otherwise relentlessly callow and self-centered character, but at least for me they weren’t enough to generate any real empathy for him. Vera, by contrast, is an engaging and combative old leftist. I loved hearing her talk; I just wanted Leo to shut up.

The script’s failings notwithstanding, this is a very strong production. Mr. McCabe and Ms. Gardner work very well together and I found the gradual deepening of their uneasy friendship completely convincing. Bec’s conflicting emotions are beautifully etched in Ms. McClellan’s face and Ms. Johanson turns in a comic gem of a performance as the spoiled Amanda, horrified to discover that she’s been seducing the grandson of a Communist.

Robert Mark Morgan’s vintage 1960s apartment set is stunningly realistic, with illusion enhanced by John Wylie’s lights and Rusty Wandall’s sound with its touches of Big Apple ambience. I was particularly impressed with a scene in which Leo is using Vera’s MacBook Air to Skype with his sister. It sounded as though the sister’s voice was coming from the prop laptop in a real time conversation; very nice.

Director Jane Page has done a fine job of pulling this all together and moving it all along at a reasonable pace. Her stage pictures and blocking make sense and serve the flow of the show well.

The Rep’s dedication to new works in its Studio series is a fine thing and, at least since I’ve started attending them on a regular basis, the hits have far outnumbered the misses. For me, “4000 Miles” is one of the latter. Don’t get me wrong; I found it entertaining and engaging enough in a low-key way, but with so many more compelling choices in town right now, I expect you can find a better investment for your theatrical dollar.

The Repertory Theatre’s production of “4000 Miles” runs through February 3rd in the Studio theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center in Webster Groves. For more information: repstl.org

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