Saturday, May 16, 2015

4000 Miles goes the distance

by Jenni Morin

A road trip becomes an odyssey in Amy Herzog’s award-winning 4000 Miles as it tenderly examines the reality of dealing with loss. Now showing at the Cellar Theater through June 7, The Playhouse’s rendition of 4000 Miles raises the bar for local productions.

Cris Boneta and Sam Carter Gilliam as Leo and Vera in
4000 Miles at The Playhouse. Photo by Siggi Ragnar.
Leo arrives at his grandmother’s Manhattan apartment early in the morning after biking across the country. Having experienced a huge tragedy along the way, his family and friends are increasingly worried about his well-being. His inability to deal with what has happened strains his relationship with his girlfriend Bec. Vera, although initially surprised to have a houseguest, becomes accustomed to Leo’s presence, which allows her to release her irritating neighbor from having to check up on her. Leo spends his days rock climbing and avoiding his life, and when he attempts to have a one night stand with Amanda, it ends with him alone in the dark then finally detailing the whole bike trip incident for Vera. When Vera's neighbor passes, they share a poignant moment of mutual understanding and empathy.

As Vera and Leo slowly gain momentum, it becomes clear their paths have become intertwined for this brief moment in time. Journey and distance are constant themes, but rather than the cliched undertones of spirituality or personal awareness, Herzog allows the characters to be lost. The beauty of 4000 Miles is that it gives each character a level of respect to hold their most troubling and defining milestones close rather they splaying them out to be trampled on and judged.
This sweet and witty dramatic comedy is glimpse into the lives of a very odd couple, made up of a 21-year-old modern hippie and a 91-year-old Marxist grandmother, who find solace in silence. A delicate truthful interaction, 4000 Miles is a perfect therapy session with a spunky grandmother uncensored from imparting the wisdom of her years and experience. It’s as much about growth together as it is about personal growth and finding the strength to move past tragedy and accept life for what it’s become.

In an exceptionally impressive performance, Sam Carter Gilliam leads the cast as Vera. Without overwhelming the stage, she commands it with a quiet tenacity full of judgmental looks and a signature gait. Cris Boneta as Leo portrays the angsty grandson floundering in his loneliness. Together with Gilliam, Boneta creates touching moments and well-timed humor. Lilly Canaria’s Amanda character unfortunately gives her little to work with, coming off vapid and flighty, while Kristin Richards does a commendable job as Bec and shines in her awkward encounters with Vera.

Director Bill Gundry masters the silent moments, filling them with humor and affection. All of the technical aspects fell into place to create a very real escape into the lives of Leo and Vera. A magnificently decorated and detailed set by Ryan Deroos brought Vera’s apartment to life from the crocheted doilies to the rotary phone to the cups and saucers, along with other trifles from properties master Janis Kelly. Megan Reilly’s lighting transitioned well from night to day and defied shadows for the most part, giving each trinket and detail its own spotlight. Incidental sounds and transitional interludes tempered Pat Smith’s sound design, while Crystal Wilderson’s costumes were fitting for each character, even eccentric Amanda. Aside from tightening some transitions, the show was scrupulously well executed and engaging through to the last heartwarming moment.

The Playhouse’s 4000 Miles is a simple story made better by a talented team of technicians and actors who fill the silences with humor and compassion. The Cellar Theater provides the quintessential setting for this intimate glimpse into the converging paths of two generations with differing approaches for gaining perspective in the face of loss.

4000 Miles runs at The Playhouse Cellar Theater through June 7 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. For more information and to reserve tickets, visit

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