4000 miles is a long way to bike, from Washington State to Greenwich Village, New York. But bike it Leo does, and arrives at his grandmother’s apartment at three in the morning, redolent with the scent of travel. And at first, there’s an equally wide chasm of misunderstanding between 21 year-old Eco-hippie, Leo and 91 year-old leftist, Vera. So begins the Repertory Theater of St Louis’ studio offering, 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog, skillfully directed by Jane Page.
Herzog’s play is about compassion, and its ability to heal. Leo, played by Dan McCabe, experiences death, for the first time, on his trip across the country; Vera, the superb veteran of American theater, Ms. Rita Gardner, is having difficulties dealing with aging and the death of all her compatriots. We are all egotistically youthful and all age and die, if we don’t die young. It is the journey between youth and age, and the relationships we forge, which make up a life. Before our eyes, Herzog and Page, Ms. Gardner and Mr. McCabe construct a curative, empathetic relationship.
Today’s hippies and Jewish Communists of the twenties and thirties are not so different. There are basic tenants that they share, foremost a desire to make a better world through community. For me this was a central aspect of Herzog’s play, community vs. the individual. Eco-hippie Leo is painfully self-involved in the first scene, partly because of his friend’s death, partly because he is so young. During a fight with his girlfriend, Bec (Katie McClellan) and a funny scene with Amanda (Lisa Helmi Johanson,) a girl he picks up and brings home one evening, I caught myself thinking, “They are so young!” but that is the beauty and honesty of Herzog’s writing. She captures youth and age honorably.
Ms. Gardner is tremendous as Vera. She reaches for words and stumbles so convincingly you might think she isn’t off script, but she is subtly leading us through her everyday tribulations. Her husband is dead, her friends are dying, her hearing is going, and her teeth are gone. Her beliefs are still the passionate ones of a young radical; her ability to summon that passion wanes with the rest. “I hate not being able to find my words,” she tells Leo, her ability to communicate with her shrinking world is all she has left. But communicate they do, and that is the play, two people, seventy years apart in experience, who are somehow able to reach across the divide and find comfort together.
Kudos to scenic designer, Robert Mark Morgan for his beautifully detailed Greenwich apartment, and to John Wylie, the lighting designer. Wylie manages a gorgeous quality of early morning light through the window in one scene and of the fading afternoon sun in another. Kudos also, for Jane Page’s excellent pacing, which keeps the ninety-minute play moving expeditiously.
I am not a fan of the ninety-minute play, sixty minutes of substance and thirty minutes of filler that gets cut in the TV version. That being said, Herzog does a fine job of crafting these ninety minutes. Oh, a scene with the girlfriend seems a bit manipulative, and the ending is abrupt, but nothing spoils the compassion and truth between the main characters. And that’s why we are here, to savor a moment in time when two disparate people reach out, grab hands and help each other through. Would that the rest of the world followed their lead.
4000 Miles continues through February 3rd at the Loretto Hilton.