In her heartfelt if not always involving new work,
4000 Miles, now being presented by LCT3 at the Duke on 42nd Street, 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.
Indeed, 4000 Miles proves to be something of a companion piece to her superior drama, After the Revolution, as we once again meet Vera Joseph (Mary Louise Wilson), now 91 and still feisty, still opinionated, and still dealing — not always elegantly — with bouts of memory loss and vocabulary confusion. Not surprisingly, the role 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.
As the play begins, the widowed Vera is awakened in the middle of the night by her 21-year-old grandson Leo (Gabriel Ebert), 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 — and the two soon settle into a reasonably comfortable if likely temporary living arrangement.
As their weeks together pass, Herzog comes close at times to entering sitcom land, as in a well-played scene where the two smoke marijuana together. And she teases out the story of what actually happened to Micah a bit longer than necessary, for no discernible reason. (Nonetheless, the monologue in which the details are revealed is beautifully written.)
Still, 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. The show’s strongest scene is Leo’s delayed reunion with Bec, which is full of confessions, recriminations, and genuine love. Conversely, a scene where Leo brings home Amanda, a kooky Asian girl (overplayed by Greta Lee), works far less well — in part due to Daniel Aukin’s unnecessarily frantic direction.
As might be expected, Leo learns to take responsibility for his life and his actions during his stay with Vera. But to both Herzog’s credit and detriment, the reasons for this transformation aren’t particularly spelled out. It doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Vera’s influence or any noticeable outside force; it merely happens.
While Ebert is a likeable and sometimes moving presence onstage — and he exhibits strong chemistry with all three of his scene partners — he seemingly lacks the ability to truly show us how or why Leo changes. Ultimately, the journey’s end feels a bit too abrupt, even as the play seems to have taken a bit too long to get there.