In The Writer's World

Artists Rep_4000 Miles_Vana O'Brien_ Joshua Weinstein_photo by Owen CareyAmy Herzog’s award-winning play 4000 Miles, now playing at Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre, opens with the end of one journey and the beginning of another as Leo Joseph-Connell (Joshua J. Weinstein) and his grandmother Vera Joseph (Vana O’Brien) collide at 3 a.m. in the living room of her apartment.

Leo, along with his bicycle, have ridden 4000 miles to get to Vera’s New York City apartment. For him, it has been a terrible journey. As the play progresses scene by scene, new information is revealed about just how difficult it has been and how Leo has dealt–or not dealt–with increasingly devastating events. He arrives in New York beaten, a lost soul.

Vera is in her eighties. She’s blunt as only the aged can be. She talks to herself, forgets things, and loses her checkbook. She and her neighbor call each other every day to make sure they’re both still alive. She aches in all the wrong places, and most of her friends have died. She has a low tolerance for bullshit, and can see a lot of it in her grandson, starting with his 3 a.m. arrival at her place.

The gritty chemistry between Weinstein and O’Brien sizzles as Leo and Vera square off. Leo doesn’t want to be there, but his ex-girlfriend won’t take him back and he has no money. Vera isn’t sure she wants him there, although it has been awfully lonely. She doesn’t know what to do with him or his behavior–part depression and part generation–and he smells. She doesn’t learn about hisbest friend’s death until she must attend the funeral of her own friend, “the last of the octogenarians”, and part of a group that once kept up a busy social life together. As palpable as Leo’s problems are, the beauty and disgust of aging are particularly well drawn in this play, and Vana O’Brien does not miss an opportunity to bring them believably to the forefront. Kudos!

Comic interlude is provided by Amanda (Danielle Ma), a young woman Leo picks up and brings home to Vera’s apartment. In this brilliant scene, Amanda not only has us laughing out loud, but also gets to the root of what’s eating Leo. In another funny but tender scene, Leo gets grandma stoned at the Autumnal Equinox and hears too much information about her dead husbands!

Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer-finalist play cuts to the quick of family, friendship, love, and loss. Her character Vera is inspired by her own late grandmother, Leepee Joseph, who also was the central character in Herzog’s earlier play, After the Revolution. But a great play fails to be great without superb acting and spot-on directing (Alana Byington). 4000 Miles succeeds at all levels. It runs at Artists Repertory Theatre through May 24. (Photo by Owen Carey.)

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