Review: 4000 Miles

Amy Herzog brings together a flinty grandmother and a drifting grandson.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

One of theater's more irksome stock characters is the Naughty Granny. She's the wrinkled biddy with the potty mouth, the one who drops the f-bomb and can't repress R-rated comments about sex or messy bodily functions. It's a cheap comic trick that playwright Amy Herzog wisely avoids in her fine, deeply affecting dual character study 4000 Miles. Not only is Vera Joseph a vibrantly dimensional 91-year-old—prickly and stubborn but mentally acute—she is played by the magnificent Mary Louise Wilson. The veteran actor etches a shockingly honest portrait of pride, moral clarity and flintiness in Vera, who is neither a saint nor the butt of jokes.

Although Vera has an isolated life, Wilson is not alone on stage—nor is she the only one doing excellent work there. In the first scene, she gets a surprise visit from her twentyish grandson, Leo (Ebert), who has biked cross-country from Washington to New York. Along the way (we gradually learn), Leo lost his best friend and fellow traveler, Micah, in a fatal road accident. For her part, Vera has been bereft of her husband, Joe, for a decade. Bridging gulfs of space and time, Vera and Leo connect over several days while he crashes in her West Village apartment, negotiating romantic potholes with an estranged girlfriend (Zo Winters) and an art student (Greta Lee) he picks up at a bar. There's the expected generation-gap humor and odd-couple laughs, but Herzog also digs deeply and humanely into her characters' psyches, tracing the emotional fault lines that link them to a painful family history.

Although 4000 Miles makes one think of a first-rate novella, it is solidly theatrical, thanks to keen, atmospheric work by Daniel Aukin, one of new drama's best (and most underused) directors. Aukin never lets his actors force the comedy or pathos, and his stage pictures (gorgeously lit by Japhy Weideman) pulse with the rhythm of authentic life. 4000 Miles is the sort of rich, satisfying play you should take your grandmother to—especially if she's as smart and fierce as Vera.

See more Theater reviews

Duke on 42nd Street. By Amy Herzog. Dir. Daniel Aukin. With Mary Louise Wilson, Gabriel Ebert. 1hr 40mins. No intermission.