Arts & Culture

Theater review: PlayMakers’ ‘4,000 Miles’ a crowd-pleaser

Amy Herzog’s 2012 Broadway play, “4000 Miles,” has been hailed for its keen observation of loss and loneliness across three generations, told with humor and believable characterizations. PlayMakers Repertory Company supplies impressive visuals and a talented cast for its production, emphasizing comedy at some expense to deeper emotional involvement.

When 21-year-old Leo shows up at his 91-year-old grandmother Vera’s Greenwich Village apartment at 3 a.m., it’s a surprise. He’s just finished a cross-country bike trip but hasn’t been in communication with anyone. Feisty Vera chides Leo for worrying his family but sees he’s troubled and invites him to stay.

Over several weeks, Leo tries to figure out his life. His best friend died on the trip, and now his girlfriend Bec is breaking up with him. Vera has her own problems, from losing her grasp of words to losing all her elderly friends. Leo and Vera begin to grow past their initial prickly confrontations, realizing they need each other.

The action plays out on Jan Chambers’ realistically detailed set, complete with book-lined office and padded window seats. The 95-minute, one-act play’s multiple scenes are linked through Xavier Pierce’s imaginative lighting, each transition faintly lit from differing onstage sources. Director Desdemona Chiang has cleverly choreographed the changes with actors rearranging and removing props in character.

It’s a play of little intimate moments rather than big dramatic ones. Chiang has her actors play everything so naturally that watching them seems almost an intrusion.

Dee Maaske’s Vera is warm and funny, timing acerbic comebacks and frank observations beautifully. She can elicit a laugh from lifting a coffee cup and a pang from pausing in forgetfulness. Schuyler Scott Mastain’s laidback Leo is cocky and manipulative but also disturbed and vulnerable. The pair’s hesitant negotiations are engaging and heartwarming.

Arielle Yoder sensitively balances Bec’s frustration with Leo’s inattention and slacker ways with her still-strong love for him. As Amanda, Leo’s late-night pickup, Sehee Lee rounds out the character’s mighty self-absorption by astutely playing her hidden hurts.

Chiang rightly avoids overt somber sentimentality but directs the humor to overshadow weightier underpinnings. There’s also too little building of Vera and Leo’s coming together, necessary for a sympathetic connection by play’s end. Still, Saturday night’s audience roared its approval, indicating satisfaction with the production.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

Details

What: “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog, presented by PlayMakers Repertory Company

Where: Paul Green Theatre, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill

When: 7:30 p.m. April 7-11 and 14-18; 2 p.m. April 12 and 19

Tickets: $15-$67

Info: 919-962-7529 or playmakersrep.org

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