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REVIEW - “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog at Main Stage West, Sebastopol CA

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REVIEW - “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog at
Main Stage West, Sebastopol CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo, Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Smart and Scintillating “4000 Miles”

In its North Bay premiere, this Obie-Award winning play by noted American playwright Amy Herzog currently being presented at Main Stage West is a complex, brilliant and occasionally snarky character study about relationships and identity. After its Off-Broadway run in 2011, it was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which is a pretty good indicator of its importance in the theatre community.

Sam Coughlin, Taylor DiffenderferThe story: Grandma Vera (Laura Jorgensen) is 91 years old and still fired up with the Communist activism of her past. Her Greenwich Village apartment is filled with memories, her heart and mind filled with wisdom. Her grandson Leo (Sam Coughlin), 70 years her junior, arrives after a cross-country bicycle trip bearing a heavy burden that he lacks the maturity to fully accept – the tragic death of his best friend.  He seems cynical and adrift, with no sense of purpose, made all the worse by the impending breakup with his girlfriend Bec (Taylor Diffenderfer). Leo is too condescending and self-absorbed to accept Vera’s counsel, obviously a protective shield. The lively interaction between Leo and Vera reveals more frustrations – the two just cannot connect. This theme repeats throughout the play, with each of the characters just missing an all-important emotional connection that could make a difference in their lives.

This is pretty serious stuff, but Herzog’s dialog is hilariously funny, and has some great physical comedy starring an ass-grabbing sofa. The blazing centerpiece is the unforgettable performance of Jorgensen. Vera’s ferocity and her frustrations with aging (she finds her aches and pains “disgusting”) calls to mind verses by Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Burn and rave she does, and in the most entertaining way. Coughlin’s excellent, insightful portrayal of Leo reveals just enough of the young man he was before the tragedy, and offers a glimpse of what he might become. Diffenderfer is sincere and focused as his unhappy but understanding girlfriend. There’s a brief, vivid appearance in the second act by Leo’s would-be paramour Amanda, played for all it’s worth by Courtney Yuen.

Courtney Yuen

The flow of dialogue is refreshingly natural with reflective pauses that magnify the intimacy as if through a prism. Skillful and perceptive direction by Beth Craven allows understanding of the dysfunctional characters to slowly develop and be revealed. The missed connections serve to draw the audience even deeper, and you find yourself caring about these people, warts and all. The pacing is so sure-footed that when it drops off suddenly at the end, it’s puzzling. Just when all the frayed ends are tied together, there’s a slowdown, and then it’s over. This could have been a miscue in the lighting or some other glitch, but it left a feeling that something more was needed. All in all, “4000 Miles” is a uniquely riveting show, both evocative and provocative, in a quiet, gentle way.

Now through September 27, 2015

8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
5:00 p.m. Sundays

Tickets $15 to $27

Main Stage West
104 North Main Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472

(707) 823-0177

www.mainstagewest.com

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo, Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle