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4000 Miles

Mary Louise Wilson gives a superb performance as a feisty grandmother in Amy Herzog's affecting and often hilarious play.

Gabriel Ebert and Mary Louise Wilson
in 4000 Miles
(© Erin Baiano)
In her heartfelt and often hilarious play, 4000 Miles, now at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater under Daniel Aukin's sure-handed direction, playwright Amy Herzog once again amply demonstrates her gift for creating the sort of acutely detailed conversations and finely crafted characters that immediately ring true for audiences.

The work -- which is a companion piece to her superior drama, After the Revolution -- focuses on the sudden reunion of 21-year-old Leo (Gabriel Ebert) and his 91-year-old grandmother, Vera Joseph (the divine Mary Louise Wilson), still feisty, still opinionated, and still dealing -- not always elegantly -- with bouts of memory loss and vocabulary confusion.

As the play begins, the widowed Vera is awakened in the middle of the night by Leo, who has arrived unexpectedly in her pre-war West Village apartment after a cross-country bicycle trip. He's slightly disheveled and slightly defiant -- and apparently willing to walk out the second Vera begins asking too many questions.

As we soon come to learn, Leo is in crisis: his best friend, Micah, died during the journey; he is estranged from his mother and sister for a variety of reasons; and his brief reunion earlier that evening with his girlfriend Bec (the excellent Zoe Winters) has not gone as planned. Vera offers Leo some grandmotherly comfort, as well as the occasional put-down -- a combination that essentially defines her way of dealing with the world.

As their weeks together pass, their bond grows stronger, despite some predictable ups and downs. A well-played scene where the two smoke marijuana together to "celebrate the autumnal equinox" is surprisingly affecting, as is Leo's recounting of what actually happened to Micah (a scene which Herzog places a bit later in the play than necessary, and which feels a tad too much like an acting exercise).

Plot manipulations aside -- and there are one or two that don't feel authentic -- Herzog's strength is her ability to deftly capture the truth of the characters' relationships, even Vera's love-hate friendship with her (unseen) neighbor, Ginny. Indeed, the show's strongest scene is Leo's delayed reunion with Bec, which is full of confessions, recriminations, and genuine love.

She also gets a fair amount of laughs -- and some genuine emotion -- from an extended scene in which Leo brings home Amanda, a kooky, somewhat drunk Asian girl (the fine Greta Lee) whom he hopes to sleep with.

Not surprisingly, the role of Vera proves to be an ideal fit for the superb Wilson, who imbues the part with plenty of sharp-tongued flintiness melded with a soupcon of human compassion and a dollop of leftist idealism. She also works extremely well with Ebert, who exhibits strong chemistry with all three of his scene partners.

It's undeniable that the journey's end feels a bit too abrupt -- both in Herzog's writing and Aukin's staging of the final scene -- but 4000 Miles still proves to be a trip worth taking.