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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
What has brought Leo (Gregory Boover) to Vera (Annette Miller) after a grueling, traumatic cross-country cycling trip is the substance of Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles at Shakespeare & Co.'s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre. It is a 90-minute study of human confusion, despair and resiliency that lays bare the veneer of four conflicted and vulnerable people through a witty, knowing exposition— with lots of laughs accompanying the anguish.
After Annette Miller's Vera, a deliciously feisty 80-something New Yorker, convinces Leo not to try to pitch his tent in Manhattan, he is relieved to find a comfortable guest room in her rent-controlled apartment. Too comfortable, it seems as the visit stretches into a three-week retreat from his former life and his family in Minnesota.
Lacking a cell phone, Leo insists that Vera hide the visit from his mom with whom it appears he shares a complicated and strained background. Not that Vera and Leo lack their own set of awkward communicative moments with each other as well as others. However, the mounting encounters and revelations flow naturally in Herzog's dialogue where every nuance is finely calibrated to add reflection on the variety and complexities of human experience.
Herzog's relationship between the wisecracking, politically left grandmother once married to a famous radical author and her socially conscious grandson is brought into sharp focus by the marvelous performances of Annette Miller and Gregory Boover. Seamlessly directed by Nicole Ricciardi, the honesty of their shared pathos and humor through the generational divide is at the heart of this production.
This gentle comedy/drama is a finely modulated and textured contrast of one life already richly lived with one facing a shaky future. As Leo and Vera become more comfortable with each other, they smoke pot and share stories that would seem to be inappropriate for their relationship; yet, in the light of their friendship and love for each other, transcends age differences.
To complicate Leo's life, his girl friend Bec (Emma Geer) has decided to break off their shaky interdependence. She realizes that Leo cannot be what she wants at this time and that their paths have diverged. Yet it is obvious that they care for each other and her pain is palpable.
Geer's grounded performance adds to her youthful angst. Though emotionally controlled she telegraphs volumes through her silences. His world in tatters, all of Leo's support systems, including his own self-esteem are shattered.
It is Vera's matter-of-fact acceptance of her own failing body and loss through the death of friends, which offers Leo another world to contemplate while he considers his own mess from afar. Though he appears to be affable and constructive there are moments when he retreats into his world of misery and grief with a nod or slight eye shift that indicates all is not well.
Even Leo's attempt to lose himself with a casual fling ends in an hilarious catastrophe when he brings home Amanda (Zoe Laiz) a Chinese-American art student. Laiz's antics and lusty posturing are the antithesis of Leo's mood, but even her artsy fashionista demeanor can erupt into a geopolitical tirade when Leo and Vera's leanings become apparent. Without pontificating, Herzog has injected lots of political observation while the audience laughs through the incongruities of partisan interpretation.
Both Miller and Boover's restraint in their emotional exposition invites an intimacy that draws us into a world where compassion and empathy provide hope for the lost. Herzog's delicate scene progression allows the thread of their stories to unfold gently with a magnetic resonance that envelops the audience.
All of the action is confined to Vera's lived-in apartment replete with the accoutrements of an intellectual life-comfortably unmaterialistic with an emphasis on the mind and not décor. Simply designed by John McDermott, with an eye to detail, Vera's nest reflects her politics.
Lighting designer James W. Bilnoski underscores the psychological power of every scene's impact on the characters as they move to an acceptance of human imperfection and forgiveness. Costume designer, Stella Schwartz's outfits define each character's socio-political identity with a perceptive style which quickly announces a chosen persona.
As Leo and Vera bond, the sheer humanity of their lives overwhelms the protective walls each has erected. We sense change for both of them and though this is not a new paradigm in theatrical format, it is a wonderful re-examination of what it means to be mortal.
Editor's Note: Ms. Herzog's play was widely praised when it first showed up in New York. (see Curtainup's Review) . The character of Vera first appeared in the playwright's very fine After the Revolution in 2010.
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4000 Miles by Amy Herzog
Directed by Nicole Ricciardi
Cast: Gregory Boover (Leoi) Annette Miller (Vera) Emma Geer (Bec) Zoe Laiz (Amanda)
Scene design: John McDermott
Lighting design: James W. Bilnoski
Costume design: Stella Schwartz
Sound design: Amy Altadonna
Stage Manager: Fran Rubenstein
Running Time: Ninety minutes; no intermission
Shakespeare & Co. Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre; 70 Kemble St., Lenox, MA
From 5/25/17; opening 5/28/17; closing 7/16/17
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at May 28 performance
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