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The Rousuck Review: "4000 Miles"

Richard Anderson

Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck has been to part two of Center Stage's Herzog Festival. The play, 4,000 Miles, will continue through May 24th. 

Here's her review:

Welcome back to Vera Joseph’s living room in Greenwich Village. Vera is playwright Amy Herzog’s semi-autobiographical grandmother. We met Vera and her family in “After the Revolution” -- Part One of Center Stage’s Herzog Festival.

In Part Two, “4000 Miles,” it’s a decade later and Vera is in her 90s. She’s awakened at 3 a.m. by the unexpected arrival of her grandson Leo. He’s toting a bicycle; he’s ridden it all the way from Seattle.

There are secrets here, just as there are in “After the Revolution.” The secrets in “After the Revolution” are political. Vera’s family has a strong Communist background and her late husband was the family’s courageous, ideological role model. Or was he?

The secrets in “4000 Miles” are personal. Leo started his cross-country bike ride with his closest friend, Micah. After tragedy struck, Leo went missing. Now he’s resurfaced and expects to pick right back up with his girlfriend, Bec. She has other ideas. Leo is quick to anger and take offense. Actor Josh Tobin bristles with these traits, but he tempers them with boyishness. In comparison, Lauren LaRocca’s Bec comes across as responsible and level-headed. Her maturity surprises even her.

In many ways, “4000 Miles” is Leo’s coming-of-age story. His emotional growth contrasts with his grandmother’s physical decline. Vera wears a hearing aid and dentures. She struggles to find words so often, “whadayacallit” has become part of her vocabulary. Vera is the only character that appears in both

“After the Revolution” and “4000 Miles.” Now, at the heart of the drama, she wars against her encroaching infirmities. And she takes her frustration out on anyone she happens to be talking to -- Leo or Bec or an octogenarian neighbor, whose memory has as many holes as hers.

Age isn’t the only gap separating Vera and her grandson. They have opposing outlooks on life. Vera puts community first. Leo – at least at the beginning – puts the individual first. “The point,” Vera tells him, “is you help people…it’s not about I do what’s best for me and you do what’s best for you.”

By the end of “4000 Miles,” Leo has absorbed enough of Vera’s philosophy to start becoming a grown-up. And tough Vera has regained some of her youthful heart. The play’s title puzzled me at first. The journey from Seattle to New York is less than 3000 miles. Why did Herzog add another thousand? Depending on the route, of course, there could be an extra thousand.

But I prefer to think the extra miles represent a different kind of journey. It’s the journey that Leo takes inside the walls of his grandmother’s apartment -- the journey from the end of boyhood to the cusp of adulthood.

Speaking of that apartment, as I said up top, it’s the same place we visit in “After the Revolution.” But in that play, designer Daniel Zimmerman’s set represents a half dozen different places. A set that seemed bland and distant in the first play gains more detail and takes on character and warmth in “4000 Miles.”

So does Lila Neugebauer’s tighter direction. Center Stage is running both plays in repertory. There’s much to admire in “After the Revolution” – including a broader canvas. But “4000 Miles” is the stronger, more focused and satisfying work.

Amy Herzog writes about more than this one family, of course. Center Stage’s festival includes readings two more recent, unrelated plays – “The Great God Pan,” tonight, and “Belleville,” a week later.

Herzog, who is based in New York, is an acclaimed young American playwright, but she’s been overlooked by Baltimore theaters – until now. Center Stage’s festival gives her bold voice an admirable forum. -- J. Wynn Rousuck Broadcast Monday, April 20, 2015

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years.